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Solar Surge In Tennessee Powered By Stimulus Money

Terry Patrick and his crew install nearly 3,000 solar panels atop the Memphis Bioworks' parking garage in Memphis.
Candice Ludlow
Terry Patrick and his crew install nearly 3,000 solar panels atop the Memphis Bioworks' parking garage in Memphis.

Solar energy only accounts for 2 percent of Tennessee Valley Authority’s energy portfolio.  That doesn’t sound like much, but in 2008, the amount of solar produced in the state wasn’t enough to power one house.  By the end of this year, the Tennessee Solar Institute predicts a production increase of 21 megawatts.  That’s enough to power 2,100 homes.  A lot of the solar construction you see around West Tennessee was indirectly funded with stimulus money.

The solar array that was recently installed atop the Memphis Bioworks’ parking garage on Dudley and Union in Memphis is one example.

Terry Patrick is the Electrical Foreman.  Clad in jeans, boots and a hard hat, Patrick oversees 20-30 union electricians – all of whom have completed a photovoltaic training.  

The training was paid for by a stimulus grant of nearly $3 million dollars to certify dislocated and unemployed workers in solar technology, and these jobs pay a good wage.  These journeyman electricians earn $23 an hour—10 hours a day, six days a week.

Marcus Haynes is a journeyman electrician who worked to install solar panels at Memphis Bioworks.  He completed the solar training program a year ago.  “I figured I’d be out in the field somewhere, with just solar panels everywhere, [in the] scorching hot sun,” Haynes said.  “But once I saw it in the city, I thought, ‘Wow!  Now that’s an amazing concept.  That’s ingenious!’”

Several projects have come to fruition this month:  The unveiling of the Solar Farm near Stanton in West Tennessee, which will eventually include a visitors’ center to educate people about solar technology,  a solar farm where the panels move with the sun at the Agricenter, and the solar array on top of the parking garage at Memphis Bioworks.

The power generated atop the garage will not directly provide power to Memphis Bioworks.  It’s impossible to know exactly what this solar energy is powering.  The energy from the panels feeds into the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electrical grid and is then spread across the region. 

Generation Partners is Tennessee Valley Authority’s solar energy incentive program.  Generation Partners will pay the power producer 12 cents more than the retail rate for each kilowatt hour produced for 10 years, which is another way to defray the cost of installing solar on your home or business. 

Allan Daisley, Director of Innovation and Sustainability for Memphis Bioworks, says the solar array on the parking garage will generate a million kilowatt hours of electricity for the grid.  “Just to give a little perspective, it’s enough to run 100 average houses for about a year,” says Daisley.




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