VOL. 9 | NO. 41 | Saturday, October 8, 2016
Silicon Ranch Developing Millington Solar Farm for Long Haul
By K. Denise Jennings
Millington is about to be the home of the largest solar power plant in Tennessee thanks to a public and private partnership with a commitment to renewable energy.
Silicon Ranch Corp. will install 580,000 panels at the Millington solar farm that will span 402 acres of U.S. Navy and adjacent private land.
The project brings together private Nashville-based renewable energy provider Silicon Ranch Corp. with the U.S. Navy, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division and the Millington Industrial Development Board (MIDB), all large public entities with overlapping initiatives, which is no small feat, according to all the parties involved.
All of the stakeholders have Tennessee roots. Principals of Silicon Ranch Corp., founded in 2010, include former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen; former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Matt Kisber, and former commissioner of the Tennessee State Department of Revenue, Reagan Fair.
The Millington solar farm project was born out of the Navy’s ambitious initiative to utilize one gigawatt of renewable energy to support its bases across the nation. The epicenter of the new solar farm in Millington will be at Naval Support Activity Mid-South, a U.S. Navy facility since 1917 that employs more than 7,000 and contributes about $330 million a year in economic impact for the region.
“This joint venture with the city and naval land will enhance our ability to consistently manage the Navy’s most important asset, people,” said Seth McGuire, lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy and public works officer at NSA Mid-South, which serves as the human resource center of excellence for the Navy. “It increases our energy stability and security locally while reducing our energy footprint.”
Part of the Millington solar farm will be on Naval Support Activity Mid-South land, part on 330 acres adjacent to the Navy base.
A total of 402 acres of adjacent public and private land in Millington will be transformed into the solar farm, and on it an estimated 580,000 solar panels on a single-axis tracking system that will follow the sun across its daily arc, generating 53 megawatts of solar power. In addition to the solar farm contributing to the Navy’s renewable energy initiative, TVA has agreed to a long-term power-purchase agreement which will power 7,500 homes in the Tennessee Valley.
Silicon Ranch, the largest developer, owner and operator of solar facilities in the TVA service area, was chosen to develop the $100 million project through a selection process with both the Navy – for a 37-year land lease for 72 acres at NSA Mid-South – and the Millington IDB for the purchase of another 330 acres adjacent to NSA Mid-South. In addition to these land agreements, Silicon Ranch had to negotiate a competitive price for the power-purchase agreement with TVA.
“None of it mattered if we couldn’t come up with a price to benefit TVA, with no negative rate pressure for the nine million users in the Tennessee Valley,” said Matt Beasley, senior vice president of business development for Silicon Ranch. “We needed to achieve a win, win, win for everybody.”
Since Silicon Ranch was founded in late 2010, it has completed 28 solar projects across the country, another eight are currently under construction and an additional 11 projects are in the engineering phase.
Chris Hansen, general manager of power origination and stakeholder services for TVA, said the biggest issue for TVA is the cost effectiveness of renewable energy.
“Part of our commitment is balancing low-cost and clean energy,” Hansen said. “Over the last several years there as been a significant decline in the cost of solar power, and it was consistent with the other options we had available.”
Each partner in the solar farm project seems most proud of the fact that they were able to bring so many big players together and execute a deal that worked financially for everyone, in addition to furthering the generation and use of renewable energy.
“We’ve done many other projects, but this is one of the most compelling and complex,” Beasley said. “The development process for the project took 18 months, and it doesn’t end with a power purchase agreement with TVA.”
“This project required close coordination between (NSA Mid-South), the city of Millington, Silicon Ranch and TVA, and we all had to be on board to make this work,” McGuire said. “It’s a great story of big partners working together with a common goal of renewable energy.”
One of the reasons Silicon Ranch was chosen for the project was its commitment to retain and run the project during its life, said Charles Gulotta, executive director of the Millington IDB, which is owner-financing the 330 acres adjacent to the Navy base. “We vetted a number of solar developers. We wanted a company that was interested in more than just the project, but in being members of the community and the chamber (of Commerce).”
Silicon Ranch develops, retains ownership and runs all projects in its portfolio, while many other solar power developers develop projects and then sell them off, according to Beasley.
“Not selling resonates with our partners,” Beasley said. “You design a project differently when you know you’re going to be responsible for running it long-term.”
Since the groundbreaking of the project on April 22 (Earth Day) of this year, all the stakeholders have been holding weekly calls to stay involved in the planning and development of the project prior to beginning construction in the second or third quarter of 2017, Beasley said. The solar farm is set to be fully operational by the second or third quarter of 2018, he added.
The TVA held an open house Sept. 15 for the public to give input into the nearly five-mile transmission line that will be required to move power generated from the solar farm to the large, existing TVA substation in the area. Several routes are being considered.