Massive solar farms and new initiatives mean cleaner, sustainable green power
Drive down Lee Highway and turn onto Jubilee Drive. Soon, you’ll come to a solar array of 7,490 panels. This is the Chattanooga Airport’s 3-megawatt solar farm that currently produces enough energy to satisfy 85 percent of the airport’s needs.
Installation of additional panels is planned, with the goal of attaining “carbon-neutral” status for the airport. Airport CEO Terry Hart is a big supporter of sustainability. He says the solar park financing came because Chattanooga is a non-attainment area for air quality. (Go to http://live.deckmonitoring.com/?id=chattanooga_airport to see how much solar power is being generated in real time and learn how solar energy works.)
More local solar examples include Volkswagen’s 33-acre solar farm, the largest of any industrial plant in the world, producing 13,951,476-kilowatt hours in 2014. You can view it from the Enterprise South Nature Park Overlook.
Additionally, EPB reports 3.7 megawatts of solar in the territory. You can see panels at 212 Market Street restaurant, or find Chattanooga’s largest privately owned array at Riverview Animal Hospital on N. Market Street. Park under solar panels at Finley Stadium or attend the Unitarian Universalist Church where panels are at work. Numerous private homes have solar panels as well.
It’s said that if we could capture and store the solar energy that hits the Earth in one minute we could meet the world’s energy demands for one year. ONE SUNNY MINUTE! However, the trick is to capture direct current sunlight and distribute it in usable alternating current form. That means money and jobs. Solar use is growing as panel prices come down and efficiency improves. The fuel is free. Naysayers claim that solar isn’t feasible because the sun doesn’t shine at night—but we’ve already figured out how to store it.
Any electricity-generation discussion leads eventually to Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). One reason use of solar energy lags is because TVA and distributors prefer centralized delivery. But distributed power is messy, with all those panels making their own power on your roof. Who will be paying who for this generated power and does it just stay at your home?
Right now, TVA pays for solar power generated from a residence or business, but that may disappear. For most, the cost to install a solar panel is just too expensive anyway. But in comes Community Solar to help. The idea is for a distributor, with some TVA financing help, to install a solar plant locally.
You can then purchase or lease a portion of the solar power at a fixed cost, thereby protecting buyers from rising electricity costs. EPB has acquired such a grant from TVA, but plans are not yet finalized. With Community Solar, residents can be part owners—and the air and water get cleaner and healthier.
Another plan afoot in the Tennessee legislature would allow counties and cities to assist property owners and businesses to finance energy efficiency, renewable energy and conservation projects. With the PACE Act (Property Assessed Clean Energy), private property owners arrange for private financing and add the repayment to their property tax bill.
All these ideas depend on TVA’s loosening the reins on use of old fossil fuel and nuclear power in favor of more energy efficiency and renewable energies. On Mar. 19, 7 p.m., at 1101 Market Street, a public hearing will provide information about TVA’s draft plans for delivering electricity to you in the next 20 years.
A slew of questions and comments can urge TVA to let go of the old ways and get on with a quick transition to solar, wind, energy efficiency and conservation. Clean energy means a more sustainable future for all.
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. Visit her website at enviroedu.net