Jackson Sun Story – October 10, 2018
Jackson’s new solar farm, explained
It seems the use of solar power is on the rise in West Tennessee, and a solar farm will be under construction in Jackson in summer 2019, slated for completion by the end of next year. Jackson Energy Authority was awarded a two megawatt solar installation through a Tennessee Valley Authority program in October 2017.
The farm will be built and operated by Silicon Ranch, a national company whose roots started in Tennessee. It will sit on a 26-acre plot of land near McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport and produce enough renewable energy to power about 400 homes. But this project is not intended to address residential power needs, and its construction will impact the Jackson community in ways beyond the utility sector.
What is a solar farm?
A solar farm is a plot of land that has been outfitted with solar panels to harness the sun and create renewable energy. Silicon Ranch, the company that is financing the build of the Jackson solar farm, will also own and operate it.
“The idea was to be an independent power producer and sell our power to utilities and companies, but to be different than a lot of other companies in that we would own and operate these projects, with an emphasis on giving back to the community,” CEO and president of Silicon Ranch Matt Kisber said.
Silicon Ranch’s solar equipment will create renewable energy, which will be purchased through the Tennessee Valley Authority, the only entity in the Tennessee Valley that can generate and sell power. Through a “distributed solar solutions” program, TVA will sell this renewable energy to a distributor — in this case, JEA.
Kisber said solar panels have become much more efficient and less costly in recent years, making solar power a more viable renewable energy source.
“That affords utilities the ability to contract with companies like ours and buy power less expensively than a lot of the other forms of generation that they have available to them,” Kisber said.
What about electricity rates?
John Nanney, JEA vice president of economic and industrial development, said the new solar farm will have no impact on customers’ utility rates. In fact, the solar farm will pose “minimal risk” to all JEA customers, Nanney said.
The farm’s main purpose will be to serve industrial customers who want to purchase renewable energy credits to meet corporate environmental goals, Nanney said.
“Our arrangement with Silicon Ranch is that they will receive the power sales … and then we receive the [renewable energy credits],” Nanney said. JEA will sell those credits to industrial customers at current market value.
Both residential and industrial customers will see no changes in electricity rates as a result of the solar farm, Nanney said.
What is the community impact?
Kisber describes solar farms as large investments with the potential to have a proportional impact on the communities where they are located.
“These are big capital investments, and we pay property tax on those,” Kisber explained, adding that Silicon Ranch has done multiple solar projects in small, rural communities around the nation.
Silicon Ranch often makes property tax arrangements with the communities in which they build, Kisber said. In some Georgia locations, these arrangements resulted in $1,000 raises for school teachers and funds to purchase new equipment for playgrounds.
Kisber said Silicon Ranch contracts with two contractors that specialize in building solar farms for the projects, but these firms hire mostly local workers. Out of 200 to 300 workers that could be on a building site, all but about 25 are hired and trained locally, Kisber said.
“The economic impact from construction is significant in these communities,” he said.
Past Silicon Ranch projects have created new jobs in Arkansas as well.
“It really broke the log jam [and] allowed new investment and new jobs in rural southwest Arkansas,” Kisber said.
Will industrial customers benefit?
The purpose of this solar farm is to allow JEA to provide industrial customers with options to buy renewable energy credits that were generated locally. Silicon Ranch will receive the power sales from the project, but JEA will receive the renewable energy credits, or RECs.
RECs are units that represent proof that one megawatt-hour of energy has been created using a renewable energy source. Companies that want to operate using renewable energy but cannot build their own renewable energy plants can purchase RECs as a commodity on the open market. They are numbered and tracked, so the sales can be proven. RECs can be considered the “currency of the renewable energy market,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Once a company owns an REC, they own the “green” power that it represents, according to the EPA. This means they can make the claim that they use renewable energy.
“Many companies have objectives to decrease their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment … and this is a way for them to do that,” Nanney said, adding that they already have interest from some local industries.
“A lot of the companies don’t want to just go out and buy them on the market …” Nanney said. “They want to get RECs that are generated locally.”
Industrial customers will not receive any tax credits for the renewable power, Nanney specified.
The purchase of RECs provides revenue that helps grow the market for renewable energy as well, according to the EPA.
Kisber said this is also an important part of a company’s decision to purchase RECs.
“What so many companies are asking in their selection process, whether it’s for expansion or for new investment, is to know that they’re going to be able to have two things: that they can get renewable energy … [and] their investment is causing new renewable energy to be created,” Kisber said.
Future of solar energy in West TN
Silicon Ranch has several other solar energy projects located in the West Tennessee area. Kisber said their Providence Project, located in Denmark, is an example of the most efficient way to deploy solar power. This solar farm stretches over 200 acres, producing 20 megawatts that can serve up to 4,000 homes.
With more projects in nearby Memphis, Brownsville and Millington, Kisber said the use of solar power in the West Tennessee area is on the rise. He said in terms of sun insolation — how much sunlight reaches the ground — southwest Tennessee has only about 5 percent less than the desert southwest.
“There’s a great sun resource in southwest Tennessee,” Kisber said.
Silicon Ranch currently has about 180 megawatts of solar power under contract in the state of Tennessee, with approximately 120 of those located in West Tennessee. Kisber said he hopes the solar farm in Denmark and the new solar farm in Jackson will “[open] the door to Jackson industry.”
This is not the first time Kisber has worked in Jackson. He started his career early, working for his grandfather at a young age for 25 cents per day at the family business, Kisber’s Department Store. He also worked as a photographer for The Jackson Sun from 1978 to 1982, and served as an elected legislator in Jackson for 10 terms from 1982 to 2002. He also served in then-Gov. Phil Bredesen’s cabinet from 2002 to 2010 as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
“It’s been an exciting ride — and there’s a lot more opportunity in the years ahead,” Kisber said.
Nanney said this solar farm is the first project of this kind for JEA, but they are considering future possibilities.
“We are evaluating whether we can do future projects to support other aspects of the community, whether it’s commercial business or residential, or more from the industrial sector,” Nanney said. “That’s what we actually plan to do, eventually, is to have more installations in the future.”
Read the original article on the Jackson Sun by clicking here.