VW eyeing largest solar park in state

VW eyeing largest solar park in state

March 17th, 2012 by Mike Pare in News

The VW logo is seen on the front of one of dozens of new Passats made at the Chattanooga Volkswagen assembly plant parked outside the plant. These cars will be used as demos for testing, internal quality control and press test drives.

BY THE NUMBERS

* 50 -- Acres for the solar park

* 1,200 -- Number of homes the solar park could power for a year

* 33,600 -- Solar panels to be installed

Source: Volkswagen

Construction is to start soon on a solar park estimated to cost about $30 million that will supply a big chunk of power to Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant.

The solar park, believed to be the state's biggest at 9.5 megawatts, will go on a tract adjacent to the factory, said Patrik Mayer, executive vice president of finance and information technology for VW in Chattanooga.

"It will be one of the largest in the Southeast that's privately run," said Mayer.

When up and running late this year, the park will provide up to 12.5 percent of the 2 million-square-foot plant's power, he said.

Two companies will build and run the plant -- Phoenix Solar, a German business with U.S. headquarters in California, and Silicon Ranch Corp., which is based in Nashville, Mayer said.

Silicon Ranch is a venture started by ex-Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber and former state Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr. Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen also is an investor and chairman of the business, according to its website.

The trio helped recruit VW when the German automaker was looking for a location to build a new U.S. plant in 2008.

Mayer said Phoenix Solar and Silicon Ranch offered the best proposal of several that VW reviewed. He projected that similar-sized solar parks cost about $30 million, and plans are to pay Silicon Ranch a fixed price per kilowatt hour to run it, he said.

The power generated by the solar park will go to the plant and not onto the EPB or TVA grids, he said.

"It goes directly into VW," Mayer said.

Chris Davis, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Solar Institute, said the solar park "is very large for Tennessee. It's one of the bigger ones in the Southeast."

He said the state's largest solar farm currently is a 5 megawatt facility in West Tennessee.

Developed and managed by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, that solar farm is designed to allow for up to 10 megawatts of solar energy generation in the future.

Mayer said the planned Chattanooga solar park will be the largest within the Volkswagen Group, which has about 60 plants worldwide.

Guenther Scherelis, general manager of communications for VW in Chattanooga, said the automaker's massive plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, has a solar array on its roof.

The solar park helped the VW factory land Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum status last year, the first auto assembly plant worldwide to garner Platinum LEED, Mayer said.

VW also considered using methane gas from a landfill in the area to produce electricity and run it the plant, but opted for the solar park for now.

VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn has set a goal of sharply reducing the amount of carbon dioxide its plants produce worldwide by 25 percent by 2018, Mayer said.