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Largest solar array in Tennessee opening next week in Millington

By Published: April 20, 2019 1:48 PM CT
<strong>Patrick Glover with McCarthy Building Co. performs wire maintenance on Friday, April 19 to a few of the thousands of solar panels at the Millington Solar Farm, which is managed by Silicon Ranch Corp. through a public-private partnership.</strong> (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Patrick Glover with McCarthy Building Co. performs wire maintenance on Friday, April 19 to a few of the thousands of solar panels at the Millington Solar Farm, which is managed by Silicon Ranch Corp. through a public-private partnership. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

With more than 525,000 solar modules in place, the largest solar facility in Tennessee is set to begin harvesting clean energy next week in Millington.

A “Flip the Switch” grand opening event is set for April 23 to celebrate the achievement.

“It’s a beautiful sight to behold here in Millington,” Millington Industrial Development Corp. executive director Charles Gulotta said. “It’s quite a bit of electricity and the result of a great, great partnership between the Navy, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the industrial development board and the city of Millington.”

<strong>David Sherrock picks up storm-strewn debris from the Millington Solar Farm while co-worker Patrick Glover fixes some lose wires in the background Friday, April 19.</strong> (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

David Sherrock picks up storm-strewn debris from the Millington Solar Farm while co-worker Patrick Glover fixes some lose wires in the background Friday, April 19. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

The coordination between the entities was a daunting task, Gulotta said. About 10 megawatts of energy will be sent to the Navy base to meet some of its long-range energy needs, and the rest will be put into the TVA electric grid.

“This solar project represents progress toward our goal of becoming the Navy’s premier installation through maintaining excellence in our facilities and services,” NSA Mid-South Commanding Officer Capt. Alonza “Al” Ross said. “It enhances our ability to manage our most important asset - our people - and helps us perform the critical function of supporting warfighter capabilities and readiness.”

The land owner, Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corp., is the largest solar energy provider based in the Tennessee Valley. In 2013, it developed the first large-scale solar energy project in Tennessee, covering 33 acres with panels near the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga.

“We now have more than 120 operating solar projects in 14 states from New York to California,” Matt Beasley, Silicon Ranch's senior vice president of business development, said. “But I’ve often said the project in Millington is perhaps my personal favorite. I love all of our projects, but this one is the culmination of several years of hard work by a lot of people who really did come together with a shared vision.”

The project, with an estimated cost of $100 million, formally broke ground on Earth Day in 2016. To get it off the ground two years before then, multiple procurements were necessary from the various stakeholders.

“In the beginning, there was the Navy with an ambition to procure renewable energy on multiple bases across the country," Beasley said. 

The Navy was to divest non-critical land to support the effort, and the NSA Mid-South in Millington had 72 acres that could support the program. However, that was not large enough to make the program economical for the TVA.

“There needed to be more land to make the project work, and the Millington Industrial Board had 348 acres adjacent to the base that could give enough economies of scale to make an attractive project ...." Beasley said.

Ultimately, Silicon Ranch entered into a long-term lease for the 72 acres with the Navy and bought the land from the Millington Industrial Development Board, which then was able to use the funds for other economic development initiatives.

A team of more than 300 was assembled by McCarthy, a national contractor, to install the modules (with 85% local hires), and the work took eight months to complete.

The array takes up about two-thirds of the total acreage and will generate 53 megawatts of energy – enough to power 7,500 homes annually - that will be sold to TVA through a 25-year power purchase agreement contract.

Silicon Ranch owns the new facility, which will produce zero carbon emissions, and will maintain it year-round. Most of the low maintenance will consist of maintaining the landscaping on the property, most importantly keeping the vegetation from blocking the panels.

Over the past several years, the cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically. Beasley estimates that over the past four years, the cost of panels has dipped 85% while the efficiency has improved.

“Solar now is the lowest cost form of new energy generation available, lower than natural gas and in many parts of the country it is even less expensive than operating fully depreciated coals assets,” Beasley said. “It’s really quite remarkable.”

Topics

Millington Millington Industrial Development Corp.
Michael Waddell

Michael Waddell

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian with more than 20 years of professional writing and editorial experience, working most recently with The Daily News and High Ground News.


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