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Employees working with Brown Construction, based out of Fayetteville, Tenn., install the first solar panels at the VW plant in Chattanooga Tuesday. When complete, it will be the largest solar park in Tennessee.

When Volkswagen turns on its solar park late this year, the site will generate enough electricity to power about 1,200 Chattanooga homes, according to the automaker.

But VW will use the power to help run its Enterprise South industrial park factory and produce 12.5 percent of its energy needs, officials said Tuesday as workers installed the first of 33,600 solar panels.

The 65-acre solar park, estimated to cost about $30 million, will be the state's biggest at 9.58 megawatts. Tennessee's largest solar park currently is a 5 megawatt facility in West Tennessee.

The solar park, located just north of the plant, was a key to the factory landing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum status last year - the first auto plant in the world to do so.

"It was icing on the cake" to gaining Platinum LEED, said Thilo Brockhaus, VW's manager of plant construction.

Brockhaus said VW has used solar panels to generate power at other factories in Spain and Germany.

Jeff Lee, construction site manager for builder Phoenix Solar, said each solar panel is actually four modules put together to form one 13-foot by 5-and-a-half-foot unit.

He said each panel is placed on a 25-degree slope to maximize its position relative to the sun. When work is up to full speed, 150 panels a day will be installed, Lee said.

Guenther Scherelis, VW's general manager of communications in Chattanooga, said the solar park is a way of putting environmental protection into VW's production efforts.

He said VW also has built water savings and other environmental and energy-saving devices into its 2 million-square-foot assembly plant.

"Long-term, it pays off," Scherelis said.

Silicon Ranch Corp. of Nashville reached an agreement with VW to install, own and operate the solar system.

The business was started by ex-Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber and former state Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr.

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen also is an investor and chairman of the venture, according to its website.

The trio had helped to recruit VW to Tennessee.

Silicon Ranch will be paid a fixed price per kilowatt hour to run the solar park, according to VW.