Birdseye Renewable Energy plans to install solar panels in the area outlined in red at Phipps Bend. Contributed photo.
SURGOINSVILLE — Recent efforts to generate new jobs at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park have fallen just short of fruition, but thanks to two new lease deals the park may soon be generating electricity and vegetables.
On Thursday the Hawkins County Industrial Development Board approved a contract with Birdseye Renewable Energy based in Charlotte, N.C., to place solar panels on a three-acre tract at Phipps Bend directly behind the ruins of the incomplete 1980s nuclear power plant reactor.
Birdseye is the same group that installed solar panels at about 20 locations within the Hawkins County School System, and is selling the electricity to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Under the proposed contract Birdseye would lease the property for 20 years for $3,500 per year, which would go to the IDB.
Hawkins County industrial developer Lynn Lawson told the IDB the property is ideal for Birdseye because it’s flat, it’s in the open, and it’s also directly adjacent to a Holston Electric Cooperative line that it can tie into.
“The property isn’t really of any value to us for anything else,” Lawson said. “It would be great for a small business, but we have already developed a small business park (within Phipps Bend) with three acre tracts in it.”
There was concern about the project on the part of some board members, however.
“You’re tying up a piece of property there for 20 years,” said board member Otis Munsey.
“It’s been sitting empty for 30,” board member Terry Glass replied.
IDB chairman Larry Elkins, who is also general manager of Holston Electric, said no one will ever want to develop that land.
“If we don’t give it away, we sell property for not much more than what we’re leasing this for,” Elkins said. “You’re going to get money back real quick on this deal, and we’ve got another 500 just like them out there that we can sell to somebody else.”
Although the contract is approved by the IDB, it will also require approval of the Phipps Bend Joint Venture Committee and the TVA.
As for the vegetables, in March of last year the IDB agreed to lease Phipps Bend property within the floodplain, which is unsuitable for structural development, to farmers for no less than $200 per acre annually.
On Thursday Lawson presented the board with a contract proposal from R&C Farms from Grainger County to lease 85 acres for $250 per acre annually.
It will be a five-year lease with an option for another five years.
Lawson noted that R&C Farms is well established in the region, currently operates about 900 acres, and provides produce to area grocery chains.
Although no formal vote was required, the board nodded in favor of the contract Thursday.
The farm lease deal also requires approval from the Joint Venture Committee.
Lawson said funds generated through farm and solar panel leases will be invested back into the facility through improvements to the property, as well as paying expenses to market the park to potential new industry.
Among the properties being heavily marketed by Lawson is the 60,000-square-foot, $1.3 million spec building that was constructed at Phipps Bend in 2010 in hopes of attracting a new industry and jobs to the county.
For the past several months Lawson has been courting a Canadian plastics company which is looking to invest $55 million into a new plant in the Southeast which would ultimately generate about 200 new jobs.
On Thursday Lawson reported to the IDB that although Phipps Bend made the final four in that company’s location search, it had been cut as the company whittled its choices two.
Lawson said the company would have had to spend about $8 million to add a railroad spur, additional parking and an addition to the building at Phipps Bend.