This story was updated at 10:54 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, with more information.
When Silicon Ranch built its 65-acre solar farm in Chattanooga in 2012 to help make the Volkswagen plant the greenest car plant in the world at the time, the 8-megawatt facility was the biggest solar power facility in Tennessee.
Eight years later, the Nashville-based developer of solar farms is again building the state's biggest solar array. But the new complex being built in Jackson, Tennessee, to supply the energy needs for a new $800 million Facebook data center in Gallatin will be nearly 10 times as big as the VW solar installation.
"As the price of solar generation continues to go down and we see more companies wanting to have a greener footprint, I think you'll continue to see more and bigger solar installations," said Matt Beasley, chief commercial officer for Silicon Ranch.
The new solar installation is expected to include 220,000 modules and will allow the land under the solar array to keep the land in agricultural production. Silicon Ranch has trademarked this outcome-driven model as Regenerative Energy and is already demonstrating results at Bancroft Station Solar Farm in Georgia, which helps serve Facebook with a 103-megawatt solar farm that was commissioned in November 2019.
"Our team co-locates clean electricity generation and regenerative agriculture to revitalize degraded soils, enhance biodiversity, improve water quality, and sequester carbon in the soil, while restoring functioning grasslands and helping meet the need for decentralized and resilient energy and food systems," Beasley said.
Silicon Ranch, which was started in 2011 by two former cabinet officers for former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, has installed about 135 solar farms in 14 states over the past decade and was selected by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the utility's Green Invest program to supply entirely renewable energy for Facebook.
In 2018, Facebook pioneered the first project in TVA's Green Invest program, which provides renewable energy at cost to businesses and other power users that are looking to buy entirely renewable energy to comply with their corporate sustainability goals. More than 250 major companies, including Facebook, Google and Amazon, have pledged to eventually become carbon-free to limit greenhouse gas emissions linked with global warming.
Since January, Green Invest has generated $1.6 billion in economic activity in TVA's service territory, TVA spokesman Sott Fiedler said.
"TVA is building the energy system of the future, and we are leading the charge by contracting 1,300 megawatts of utility scale solar in the past two years," said Chris Hansen, TVA vice president of origination and renewables.
Silicon Ranch will fund construction of the solar facility and will own and operate the plant. The project will create more than 350 construction jobs, with additional employment for ongoing operations and maintenance, including ranchers and farmers to care for the land as part of Silicon Ranch's holistic approach to land management.
The facility is expected to come online in fall 2022.
"We are thrilled to be partnering with TVA and Silicon Ranch to bring this new solar facility to the grid in support of our operations in the Tennessee Valley," said Urvi Parekh, head of Renewable Energy at Facebook. "The nearly 450 megawatts of new solar energy we are developing with TVA is an important part of our goal to support our global operations with 100% renewable energy."
Facebook will support all of its operations with 100% renewable energy by the end of 2020. In addition to Silicon Ranch, Orsed will generate 227 megawatts at a new solar farm being built in Colbert County, Alabama and NextEra will generate 150 megawatts in Lincoln County, Tennessee.
The Facebook announcement comes on the heels of three other major Green Invest deals this year: General Motors, Vanderbilt University, and Knoxville Utilities Board.
TVA also announced earlier this year an option to purchase approximately 3,000 acres in North Alabama to facilitate development of utility-scale solar.
"We are on the forefront of a great change that is sweeping the energy industry, and TVA's innovation has positioned us to help communities and businesses meet their sustainability goals while attracting high-quality jobs to our region," said Hansen.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6430.