Officials laud clean energy produced at new Phipps Bend solar farm

Jeff Bobo • Jun 20, 2017 at 7:30 PM


SURGOINSVILLE — Solar energy provider Birdseye Renewable Energy welcomed local dignitaries to the Phipps Bend Industrial Park on Tuesday to celebrate the completion of its new solar energy farm, located adjacent to the ruins of a canceled TVA nuclear power reactor.

Birdseye, which is based in Charlotte, N.C., already has a substantial presence in Hawkins County with 20 solar panel installations on county school property that were installed five years ago and generate $43,750 annually for the county school system.

The new $1.8 million installation located on approximately six acres at Phipps Bend will generate $4,200 annually in rent for the Phipps Bend Joint Venture — which is the board of directors comprised of Hawkins County and Kingsport representatives that oversees administration of the park.

The facility will also generate personal property tax revenue for Hawkins County for the solar equipment, although the exact amount of revenue has not yet been determined.

Comprised of more than 3,000 panels, the facility will generate enough energy to power about 92 homes, and Birdseye will be selling electricity generated there back to TVA.

Birdseye owner Brian Bednar said Tuesday that since completing the county school solar projects, he'd been looking for ways to again partner with Holston electric, TVA and Hawkins County for another project.

The Phipps Bend solar farm is part of TVA's Solar Solutions Initiative (SSI), which provides incentive payments for mid-size solar projects in TVA's Renewable Standard Offer program if the projects use local certified installers.

Birdseye was introduced to the Phipps Bend location by Hawkins County Industrial Development board chairman Larry Elkins.

"We identified this site, which is essentially the ideal size for a one-megawatt program that fits the SSI program," Bednar said. "And it was a piece of the industrial park that really didn't have as good applicability for large employers or large manufacturers. We're proud to be producing tax base for Tennessee and the local economy."

The solar panel industry is constantly evolving, and Bednar noted that the panels installed at Phipps Bend are less expensive and 30 percent more efficient than those installed across the school system five years ago.

The Phipps Bend panels also have "trackers" which adjust the angle of the panels to provide maximum exposure to the sun throughout the day.

Birdseye will also be seeding out the grounds around the panels to create a bee friendly "pollinator habitat."

Elkins noted that the IDB's two goals are to create more jobs and increase the county's tax base, and this project definitely will create more tax base.

"As you look at the backdrop of this solar project, of the abandoned nuclear plant, I though that was certainly a unique setting,” Elkins said. “The odd thing about this I was involved with Holston Electric back when they were building the nuclear plant, and then again when they shut it down and we were able to work with TVA and partner with them on this industrial park."

He added, "At that time, we partnered with TVA, the Kingsport Industrial Board and the Hawkins County Industrial Board to form the Phipps Bend Joint Venture, and over the course of the last 25 years there's been about $75 million of taxpaying investment in Phipps Bend and hundreds of jobs created."

Steve Noe, TVA renewable energy program director, noted that the solar farm is part of TVA's clean energy initiative.

About 55 percent of electricity produced by TVA is "carbon free," and TVA has reduced its CO2 emission levels by 30 percent from its 2005 levels.

"TVA is committed to a lower carbon future," Noe said. "We're on a path to decrease (carbon emissions) by more than 60 percent by 2020. This facility helps keep us on the path to achieve the carbon reduction goals that we have."                                                                                                     

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