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Solar farm will impact county

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 1/22/22

The Vanderbilt I Solar Farm going on Frank Martin Road in Shelbyville will sit on 375 acres and cost upwards of $30 million, invested by Nashville-based solar platform Silicon Ranch.

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Solar farm will impact county


The Vanderbilt I Solar Farm going on Frank Martin Road in Shelbyville will sit on 375 acres and cost upwards of $30 million, invested by Nashville-based solar platform Silicon Ranch.  

The solar field is said to help Vanderbilt University in Nashville to reduce their “carbon emissions” to zero by the year 2050, according to Chancellor Daniel Diermeier. It will be the first of more to come for Vanderbilt University.  

Chancellor Diermeier, who attended the groundbreaking event Wednesday, said the solar field will reduce the university’s electrical power use by 70 percent.  

Solar Energy Industries Association (a U.S. trade association) calculates that on average one megawatt of solar power generates enough electricity to meet the needs of 164 U.S. homes. Essentially, what could power 5,740 houses will be going to Vanderbilt. 

The solar field will be located across from the Walmart Distribution Center and behind the site of the new 231 North Business Park. Planning and zoning director Chris White said the land was originally zoned agriculture despite being in an industrial location. 

White said in an earlier interview with T-G that residents of that area said their major concern is flash flooding. Therefore, despite engineers buffering the creek and wetlands, flooding will also be a concern for anyone developing either a residence or industrial property in that area, White said. 

But once solar panels are built high enough, they can survive flooding while requiring low maintenance, according to Matt Beasley, chief commercial officer for Silicon Ranch, the engineers of the solar field.  

The Bedford zoning commission okayed the soar farm back in July of 2021.  

Impact on Bedford 

Shelbyville-Bedford Partnership CEO Shane Hooper, who attended the solar farm’s groundbreaking event Wednesday, emphasized the “forward moving” impact of the solar farm.  

“I think it does set the right tone. It introduces Bedford County as forward moving. Obviously, renewable energy, that’s the direction the world is moving, and it’s great that Bedford County is showing itself to be a part of that,” he said.  

Speaking with T-G, Chancellor Diermeier said Vanderbilt Hospital is a “different entity” from the university.  

But Hooper said that anything that benefits Vanderbilt as a whole benefits the local hospital, which is tremendously important from a safety standpoint.   

Hooper also added, “From a recruitment standpoint, anytime that we can point to the Vanderbilt brand and say that they are in our community, it’s a positive for Bedford County.” 

Duck River EMC CEO Scott Spence said this project is the first of its kind in the Duck River service territory.  

The solar field has the potential for job creation. Since it’s situated near the Bedford County industrial park where “potential industry can visualize our local commitment to sustainable, renewable energy,” Spence said. 

“When we think about economic development, we think about it in two forms: new businesses looking to come here and existing businesses looking to expand and provide jobs. It’s important to us to provide jobs and to provide tax revenues to help the communities we serve,” he said.  

Vanderbilt will utilize the Duck River EMC's substation. But since the solar panels have no need for sewer, water or natural gas, so local utilities will not profit from those services, according to White.  

However, once operational, Vanderbilt 1 will generate more than $1.7 million in additional tax revenues for Bedford County to support the local government and school system, according to Silicon Ranch co-founder and chair Matt Kisber, who spoke at the event.  

“During construction of the solar facility, Silicon Ranch expects to hire more than 250 craft workers over a 12-month period. The majority of whom will be recruited from Bedford County and the surrounding region, with a special emphasis on recruiting from the military, veteran community,” Kisber said. 

More than solar 

Silicon Ranch is a Nashville-based solar platform for the gas company Shell and one of the largest independent solar power producers in the country. They are the developer, owner, and operator of the solar field, according to Beasley.  

“We’re investing millions of dollars into Bedford County—we're buying the land, we’re investing in it, and we’re hiring with specific focus on the local communities,” said Beasley.  

Since they are the owners of the land, Beasley said they will maintain the environment’s health through their regenerative energy program to promote healthy vegetation in the solar field.  

“We always say it makes solar do more. It’s not just about producing clean, renewable energy to benefit Vanderbilt or TVA, but how can we actually make healthier soil underneath as well,” said Beasley. 

Green Invest 

The Tennessee Valley Authority has a program call “Green Invest,” according to Jeanette Mills, Executive Vice President and Chief External Relations Officer at TVA. Diermeier said Vanderbilt was interested in the program, which is how the partnerships started. 

“So, we’re able to partner together to help deliver to Vanderbilt the solar, the renewable energy, that they wanted in their system,” Mills said. “It’s part of our mission for energy at the lowest cost, environmental stewardship, and economic development.”  

TVA spokesperson Scott Fiedler said, “Green Invest is the only program in the nation that makes TVA the nexus for solar energy across seven states. We bring together developers and users in one package. We can now supply from end to end, from state to state, renewable energy to drive jobs and investment. And that’s the power of this site right now.”  

TVA serves seven states, including, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, North Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, and all of Tennessee, according to Mills. They also have other sites in Mississippi that provide renewable energy for Knoxville, according to Fiedler. 

“Roughly 60 percent of our electricity is carbon free now and getting greener every year,” said Fiedler.  

The success of this partnership even sparked an agreement with the City of Nashville to achieve the same goal of being self-powered and carbon neutral for the Nashville area, according to CEO of Nashville Electric Services Decosta Jenkins, who attended Wednesday’s event. 

“Metro Nashville was the first local government to pursue access to Green Invest in the TVA territory. In the next two decades, Nashville solar power will produce enough clean energy to match the equivalent of removing more than 14,000 cars from the road,” he said.   


Story correction: An earlier version of this article  said that DREMC will benefit from Vanderbilt purchasing  the substation's electrical power. However, Vanderbilt  is only responsible for purchasing any expense associated with use of the substation, meaning upgrades needed to support the project and the line extension to the site, according to Elisabeth Thompson of DREMC.