May 13, 2022
  • May 13, 2022

East Tennessee companies TVA and KUB invest in solar power

By on May 3, 2022 0

People went crazy over toilet paper at the start of the pandemic, and it became a commodity that seemed as valuable as gold.

Harvey Abouelata saw a run on another high-demand product: solar panels.

Before the pandemic, Abouelata, vice president of Knoxville-based Solar Alliance, said the company installed solar panels on eight residences a year.

It installed 148 during the first two years of the pandemic.

In a world with pandemics and wars, Abouelata said he has seen people wanting to become more independent and have more control over resources like energy, which solar power can provide.

“Talking about solar power and what it does is about as sexy as watching paint dry,” Abouelata told Knox News. “But what he’s doing for us, (he’s) given us resilience, given us independence, lowering our costs. That’s important.”

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The benefits of solar power and renewable energy are not lost on agencies and businesses in Knoxville and Tennessee that are investing heavily in these areas.

Since 2015, the Knoxville Utilities Board has invested $3.3 million in solar power across three projects.

KUB has invested to bring 502 megawatts of solar power online through TVA’s Green Invest program. The investment will also help the city meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

By 2035, Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Scott Fiedler said the TVA hopes to produce 10,000 megawatts of solar power per year. That’s enough to power 35% of single-family homes in the seven-state VAT area.

Businesses are going solar

Last year mechanical seal manufacturer AESSEAL invested $1.8 million to install solar panels and storage batteries at its Blount County facility. The panels will generate enough electricity to power 70% of the facility’s operations and are expected to be completed in October.

AESSEAL’s quality, safety and manufacturing manager, Josh Perry, said the company is not bothered by the amount of money spent and is more focused on doing the best thing for the customer. ‘environment.

Once installed, the solar panels will allow the company to save on its energy bill.

“Solar is basically free, you know, nobody pays for the sun,” Perry said. “(We) pay for the panels upfront, but after that it’s a free energy source that’s renewable.”

In an effort to go greener, UK-headquartered AESSEAL has announced that it will invest $40 million in eco-friendly projects for its facilities around the world through 2029.

In February, Beardsley Community Farm in Mechanicsville installed a 2.7 kilowatt solar panel on its school building with help from Solar Alliance. The panels were provided at cost of $5,000 and Solar Alliance provided the labor.

On a sunny day, Beardsley Farm co-manager Charlotte Rodina said the eight solar panels can meet all the building’s electrical needs, from powering computers to the cold room.

The farm does not have a battery to store power, so it pivots to traditionally generated power on cloudy days.

Although the savings on the electric bill are attractive, the panels serve a more important purpose. Rodina said the farm uses the panels to educate visitors about the benefits of solar power and demonstrate environmentally friendly practices.

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“We want to be greener and use less fossil fuels here on the farm,” she said. “It’s a win-win because we can also show these panels to everyone.”

Installing solar power can not only help a business become energy independent, but it can also provide tax breaks.

Abouelata said there are many tax credits and economic incentives, including the Rural Energy Program Grant for America of the United States Department of Agriculture. The grant provides funding to small rural businesses to install renewable energy systems or to improve energy efficiency.

It’s a program Abouelata says many companies in the South underutilize.

“Most of that money is going to Iowa and California right now,” Abouelata said. “It’s your taxpayers’ money going to different states. So I think it’s really important that we promote and really talk about the REAP grant.”

Community investments

Knoxville residents will eventually have easier access to solar power.

KUB announced in November 2020 that 20% of Knoxville’s electricity would be generated from renewable sources by 2024. That would be enough electricity to power 83,000 homes annually.

KUB has committed $1.5 million to build the first community solar panel, according to KUB’s 2021 Environmental Report. The one-megawatt array is located on three acres of land at the Public Works facility on Western Avenue.

“(It’s) really a great place for solar energy because it’s a beneficial way to use land that otherwise wouldn’t have much use,” said Chasity Hobby, an analyst at the environmental management of KUB.

Residents will be able to subscribe to part of the grid and the energy generated, according to Hobby. Subscribers will then receive renewable energy credits for their share of energy produced.

KUB estimates that the community grid will generate enough energy to power 100 homes per year.

A man plays with his dog next to the solar panel field at John Tarleton Park in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, April 16, 2022.

KUB said it has more than 300 customers using solar power.

On April 21, the Knoxville Parks and Recreation Department announced that it was partnering with Solar Alliance to build a solar array above the Cal Johnson Recreation Center. The 20.5 kilowatt network will offset some of the energy used to operate the building.

Invest in solar energy

An important factor in making Knoxville’s energy supply more renewable is the Green investing in TVA program.

The program offers “businesses and industry an effective, timely and cost-competitive solution to aggressively achieve their sustainability goals,” according to TVA’s website.

Last year, TVA and KUB partnered to build a 200 megawatt solar farm in Clay County, Mississippi.

The solar farm, which will be completed in late 2023 by solar energy storage developer Origis, will generate power that will go into TVA’s grid and be distributed across its seven-state footprint.

For its participation, KUB earns renewable energy credits, which is a way to account for any green energy creation. Along with the farm and other KUB investments, Knoxville is the Southeast’s top solar energy investment city, according to the Green Invest program.

These renewable energy credits can be used to help recruit businesses in the Knoxville area that want to meet sustainability goals.

“It doesn’t just make monetary sense, but it makes environmental sense,” Fiedler said.