Fleischmann sees Chattanooga as future site of Department of Energy facility

Fleischmann sees Chattanooga as future site of Department of Energy facility

May 24th, 2016 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., speaks as Dr. Franklin Orr, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro and Thom Mason, from left, listen during a press conference at a regional energy innovation conference May 23, 2016, at the Chattanoogan.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

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“I hope someday we'll have an individual standing structure. That's my long-term goal — to ultimately have something big in Chattanooga. ”
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said he's looking at attracting a permanent U.S. Department of Energy presence in Chattanooga beyond a new Oak Ridge National Laboratory office in the city that was unveiled Monday.

"I hope someday we'll have an individual standing structure. That's my long-term goal — to ultimately have something big in Chattanooga," said Fleischmann.

Speaking at a regional energy innovation conference, Fleischmann said the city is well positioned to host the DOE with its proximity to ORNL in Oak Ridge, Tenn., NASA in Huntsville, Ala., and sites in Knoxville and Nashville.

He termed Chattanooga "a perfect place" for such a "major" DOE facility. "DOE is building regional hubs," Fleischmann said at the conference that drew several hundred people.

The Tennessee Republican was joined by ORNL Director Thom Mason, Mayor Andy Berke, and DOE and University of Tennessee officials who announced the Chattanooga national lab office will be housed at EPB headquarters downtown.

Officials said the ORNL site will continue earlier work related to EPB's "smart grid" and ramp up future activities. Backed by a $111.4 million federal stimulus grant, EPB built a fiber optics network to provide a smart interconnected power grid and the first citywide 1 gigabit-per-second Internet service in the Western Hemisphere. The DOE lab is helping EPB assess the extra data provided by the smart grid to better monitor and control power delivery and reduce electrical outages.

Mason said the ORNL office is expected to make use of the lab's supercomputers to crunch data as well as join in efforts in the energy and automotive sectors and in technology commercialization.

He said a point person from ORNL is expected to be appointed soon to coordinate joint efforts between the national lab and the city's new office.

"It's an example of regional collaboration," Mason said.

Berke said the opening of the office is "great validation of what's happening in the city," noting the ORNL office will be in Chattanooga's Innovation District. The 140-acre district in the heart of the city is seen as a place where entrepreneurs, tech-based startups, and business incubators can mesh and create a so-called innovation ecosystem.

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, DOE's deputy secretary, said ORNL is "a shining jewel in DOE's crown" and cited the electrical grid reliability on which EPB is working.

"You're a laboratory we need," she said, citing the usefulness of such research for the rest of the nation.

The DOE official said expanding the innovation pipeline is an opportunity for American businesses as well.

Joe DiPietro, University of Tennessee president, said the lab office will help develop the workforce needed for high-tech jobs in the future.

"Tying the two cities together is important," he said.

Fleischmann called the opening of an ORNL office in Chattanooga "a legacy day" for the city.

"In five, 10 years we'll look back and say what happened when ORNL opened an office," said the congressman.

Joe Ferguson, EPB's chairman, said "good stuff" will come of the office.

"We'll get world-class scientific and cutting-edge technology," he said. "That's what we want."

David Wade, EPB's president, said the distributor has had "a great experience" working with ORNL and DOE so far over the past 19 months.

Working closely with ORNL staff "allows the transfer of knowledge when you're right there beside each other," he said. The challenge will be "to make sure we have common objectives at the end."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.