EPB to build community solar in Chattanooga

EPB's Shane Wallin works on an installation outside the home of Angela Marks.

By next summer, Chattanooga's city-owned electric utility will turn to the sun for part of its power and asking those interested in supporting the renewable power source to help pay for it.

EPB announced Friday it has awarded a $1.7 million contract to a partnership formed by Brown Construction Co. in Fayetteville, Tenn. - Tennessee Valley Alternative Energy - to build one of the first community solar power generation projects in the Tennessee Valley.

Known as Solar Share, the project is being backed by a $1.1 million grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is also funding another community solar project by Appalachian Electric Cooperative in New Market, Tenn. A solar farm capable of generating about 1.35 megawatts of electric power will be built at EPB's Distribution Center along North Holtzclaw Avenue.

The solar power facility will be capable of generating enough power to meet the power needs of about 200 homes and will allow local residents to own part of the solar farm as a community solar project. Although EPB and TVA have yet to structure how persons may buy into the solar project, backers insist the project will allow persons who can't install solar panels on their own property to own or support solar power generation elsewhere in Chattanooga.

"Community solar power generation is the next step in leveraging Chattanooga's smart grid to deliver additional sources of power that fulfill our commitment to environmental stewardship," EPB President David Wade said. "Solar power is a growing market, and we continue to see the cost of solar generation decline."

Brown Construction, which will help erect the new solar panels for EPB, was a subcontractor to Phoenix Solar and Silicon Ranch, the contractors that built the 33-acre solar farm at the Volkswagen plant. VW's solar installation is capable of generating 9.5 megawatts of solar power and helped VW become the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified auto assembly plant in the world.

Ryan Keel, vice president of technical operations at EPB, said Brown Construction and Tennessee Valley Alternative Energy submitted the lowest of eight bids received and will install the solar array for the equivalent of $1.28 per kilowatt.

According to Tammy Bramlett, TVA Renewable Energy Solutions senior manager, EPB and TVA are still negotiating how customers may sign up and help pay for the new community solar project. But several options are likely.

"With EPB, we've developed an innovative approach to community solar generation that gives local people multiple ways to participate," Bramlett said. "The future is bright for solar energy, and TVA is proud of its partnership with EPB."

The timetable for construction will be determined soon, with work scheduled for completion by the summer of 2017.

Bramlett said EPB's pilot project could be the first of many community-based solar deployments.

Those who are interested in learning more are invited to call EPB at 423-648-1372 to be added to the contact list for future updates.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340