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Mayor Cooper Announces Partnership to Construct 100 Megawatts of Solar Energy In Middle Tennessee

11/10/2020
Andrea Fanta

Metro to meet 2025 code mandate for renewable energy by partnering with Vanderbilt University, NES, TVA, and Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corp.

Mayor Cooper’s administration today announced a partnership with Nashville Electric Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and Vanderbilt University to construct 100 megawatts of utility-scale solar power under the TVA Green Invest program—placing Metro General Government operations over one-third of the way toward being sourced with 100% renewable energy and enabling Metro to meet a 2025 benchmark for renewables established by Council legislation. 1 Vanderbilt will be a 25-megawatt co-subscriber to the solar array, thereby reaching their own 100 percent renewable-energy goal for campus operations. Metro-Nashville will be the first local government to pursue access to Green Invest in TVA territory.

On Metro’s and Vanderbilt’s behalf, TVA will contract with Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corp. to build a solar array in Tullahoma, Tenn. Silicon Ranch pioneered utility-scale solar power in the Tennessee Valley and is today one of the largest independent solar-power producers in America. The company was selected through TVA’s 2020 competitive procurement process for construction of up to 200 megawatts of solar power on the Tullahoma site. There will be no fiscal impact to Metro’s operating budget until Fall of 2023 when construction of the array is expected to be complete and it is online, generating clean, renewable power.

"Not only will 100 megawatts of solar power help mitigate a changing climate by affordably and efficiently meeting Metro’s 2025 clean-energy goal, it also puts Tennesseans to work and provides cleaner air during a pandemic characterized by respiratory distress," said Nashville Mayor John Cooper. “This public-private partnership will serve as a model for NES’s other large customers to replicate. I challenge Nashville’s corporate sector and major institutions to consider TVA Green Invest as a smart way to prepare for what must be a greener future.”

Metro’s 100 megawatts of solar power will produce the clean-electricity equivalent of carbon emissions from powering over 11,000 homes, or removing more than 14,000 cars from the road, every year for the 20-year term of the Power Purchase Agreement. 2 By reducing harmful air pollution, Metro’s and Vanderbilt’s combined 125 megawatts of solar energy will result in $3 to $6.8 million dollars of health benefits across Tennessee. 3 This is the statewide equivalent of nearly 40 workdays that would otherwise be lost to absenteeism associated with respiratory illness. In addition, Silicon Ranch Corp. estimates construction of the array will create 500 jobs in Middle Tennessee.

Additional attributes of the Green Invest solar project include:

  • Metro’s contract with TVA is one of the largest in the southeast to be pursued by a municipality and its local power company (NES) for access to local, new renewable energy and the associated Renewable Energy Credits, according to the World Resources Institute. This contributes to a trajectory toward greater utilization of renewable resources in TVA territory.
  • As the first local government to pursue access to TVA Green Invest, Nashville earns “lead by example” status in this policy area, facilitates an additional layer of transparency to TVA’s process and programmatic structure, and offers the benefit of precedent and lessons-learned to other municipalities in the Valley.
  • Purchasing access to utility-scale solar power through TVA Green Invest allows Metro to affordably leapfrog several interim benchmarks for both carbon-free and renewable goals set forth in previous legislation (BL2019-1600). This 100MW solar array will meet Metro’s 2025 Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) energy-source requirements at an added cost of less than 0.70% to Metro’s electricity bill—which can be neutralized through planned investments in efficiency retrofits 4 for older buildings.
  • As Metro seeks to comply with its RPS requirements, participating in this current round likely shields Metro from future price increases as customer demand for access to Green Invest grows over time. Metro will also perennially own the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) generated by the array as TVA retires them from the national market on Metro’s behalf.

TVA Green Invest provides access to utility-scale solar under a green-tariff 5 policy approach, whereby electricity purchased by a utility-customer is matched with purchases of renewable energy by an energy supplier on the customer’s behalf. Green Invest is a public-private-partnership approach to renewable energy in which TVA pairs its larger customers with solar developers through a competitive bid process.

Quotes of Endorsement

“We hope this groundbreaking partnership between government, business, and universities will be a model of innovative collaboration to address the most important issues of our time.” –Daniel Diermeier, Chancellor, Vanderbilt University

“We are proud of Metro-Nashville and Vanderbilt University for making this important commitment to providing renewable energy for our city. They are stepping up and supporting these efforts in a meaningful way. NES applauds these actions and hopes they will set a new standard for commercial customers that value sustainable energy improvements.” –Decosta Jenkins, President and CEO, Nashville Electric Service

“The American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator team congratulates Metro-Nashville and TVA on their collaborative efforts to develop new, local, renewable resources. Through this project, Nashville continues to show regional leadership on climate and sustainability as one of the first local governments in the Southeast to pursue a utility-scale solar contract of this size." –Celina Bonugli, Clean Energy Innovation Associate for the World Resources Institute and technical lead for the ACCC Renewables Accelerator

“With today’s announcement, Metro-Nashville is establishing itself as a climate leader in the southeast, showing that it’s possible to deliver clean air and healthier communities affordably. The Tennessee Valley’s history is tied to its power industry, and Mayor Cooper, Vanderbilt, and TVA are helping write the next chapter—sparking new markets for low-carbon energy and helping to transition the region beyond carbon.” –Adam Freed, Principal, Bloomberg Associates Sustainability Practice

"By pursuing this solar array, Nashville is exemplifying moral and practical leadership in addressing the climate crisis. Furthermore, innovative clean energy solutions such as this will help us improve local air quality and attract jobs to our city. We are pleased to support this project."Rev. Paul Slentz, Chairperson, Nashville ChapterTennessee Interfaith Power & Light

Mayor Cooper’s Green Invest proposal caps a year of notable progress on multiple environmental initiatives, including:

  • adoption of updated residential building codes to improve energy-efficiency and resilience to climate-related extreme weather;
  • joining 200 U.S. mayors in advocating for a zero-carbon economy that creates equitable opportunity by signing a Climate Mayors letter urging Congress to take bold action on sustainability while building a just economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • appointing a climate and environmental-policy expert of national repute to the NES Electric Power Board;
  • formulating an “Energy Savings Program” to support energy-efficiency retrofits in Metro General Government facilities through an “Energy Savings Revolving Fund”;
  • investigating opportunities to install additional rooftop solar on Metro General Services’ buildings; and
  • installing rooftop solar arrays at Sheriff’s Office Downtown Campus, the Metro Police Department Headquarters and Family Safety Center, the Bellevue Community Center, and Fire Station #37 (each achieving LEED certification).

In December 2019, Mayor John Cooper announced these and other initiatives to combat climate change and promote sustainability. Additional information can be found at the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability page on nashville.gov.

1 In June 2019, the Metropolitan Council unanimously approved BL2019-1600, which delineates a Renewable-energy Portfolio Standard for powering of Metro General Government operations. The RPS requires Metro to utilize 35% tier-one renewable energy sources by 2025 (2.45% from solar only), and by 2041 to utilize 100% tier-one renewable energy (10% from solar only).

2 According to the U.S. EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator

3 As calculated by the The Greenlink Group, an Atlanta-based consulting firm specializing in clean-energy technology.

4 Council legislation, BL2019-1599, mandates a retrofit program to reduce energy consumption by at least 20% among at least 9% of Metro-owned buildings.

5 U.S. EPA’s explainer on Utility Green Tariffs