If the current construction timetable holds, schools in Washington and Sullivan counties in northeast Tennessee will be at least partially powered by a new 9-megawatt solar farm by the end of the year. Silicon Ranch, BrightRidge and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at the newly christened Martin Solar Farm in northwest Washington County June 8.
“Probably around November or December we’ll have a ‘Flip the Switch’ event that will turn this system on,” BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said. “That’s pretty quick from start through construction. Most places they have to do a lot of grading. This one is designed around using the contours as much as possible, so there won’t be nearly the amount of land that will have to be moved or flattened out for this.”
The project has been in the works for more than a year, since BrightRidge signed a 20-year Generation Flexibility Program agreement with TVA allowing the Johnson City-based utility to generate up to 5 percent of its own power. Silicon Ranch, which already operates the Telford Solar Farm in Washington County, will build and own the array, selling the power to BrightRidge at what Silicon Ranch Chairman Matt Kisber called, “a very attractive price.”
Kisber, who is also former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, told the media, dignitaries and contractors at the groundbreaking, “Not only does this produce renewable generated electricity locally, it also contributes to the economy…in providing an economic development tool. So many companies today when they’re making a decision about expansion or a new location want to know if there is renewable generated electricity they can use and rely on.”
Kisber said Silicon Ranch’s founders, “built economic development into the DNA” of the company. “We look forward to being a tool that helps further the efforts and priorities of this community in recruiting capital and jobs and making the BrightRidge service area the best in the country.”
Dykes said advances in technology will make the farm one of the most reliable in the nation. “These solar panels are designed to not only capture the energy on the top, but also that which is reflected off the land and is captured (on the underside of) the panels.”
Among the first customers drawing power from the farm will be the Washington County and Johnson City public school systems, as well as three schools in Sullivan County and East Tennessee State University.