City firm builds solar farm in state

City firm builds solar farm in state

July 9th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Signal Wind Energy President Ben Fischer stands in the foyer of the company's offices near Hamilton Place mall on Monday. Signal Wind Energy works on wind-related energy projects from concept to completion.

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.


In 2010, Signal Energy completed work on nine solar energy projects that totaled more than 34 megawatts, according to the Chattanooga company.

A Chattanooga-based company has started erecting what will be the largest utility-scale solar farm in Tennessee and one of the biggest in the Southeast.

Signal Energy President Ben Fischer said the $20 million project in West Tennessee will involve installing 21,000 silicon-based photovoltaic modules at the site.

"We've begun the important work of putting in the support bases and foundations for the solar modules," he said.

The Haywood County location near Interstate 40 between Jackson, Tenn., and Memphis will employ several hundred workers, Fischer said.

"It's good work to have in our backyard," he said.

The solar farm, which Signal Energy also designed and engineered, will occupy 35 acres and produce more than 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

Developed and managed by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, the solar farm's initial 5 megawatt-installed capacity is expected to be complete in early 2012. The farm is designed to allow for up to 10 megawatts of solar energy generation in the future.

J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of marketing, said Signal Energy is one of the companies that gives the city a special focus on the alternative energy sector.

"We have a number of companies which have succeeded in concentrating in niches related to sustainability," he said.

Fischer said the West Tennessee project is a complex one logistically, adding that it's like building a big manufacturing facility without a roof.

"It's like a Volkswagen without a roof," he said.

The CEO said the company expects to more than double its revenues in 2011 over last year, but he declined to give figures.

"The growth of the solar industry is strong," he said. Fischer also said growth in wind power is stable.

Signal Energy, a subsidiary of Chattanooga-based general contractor EMJ Corp., has renewable energy projects under construction in 10 locations in six states, including solar facilities in New Mexico, Arizona as well as Tennessee.

Since its formation in 2005, Signal has completed over 35 renewable energy projects ranging from 10 megawatts to over 120 megawatts in the U.S. and Canada.

The West Tennessee solar farm is part of the Volunteer State Solar Initiative, created to benefit the state's economy by using federal dollars to create jobs and provide support to the solar industry.