The Vanderbilt 1 Solar Farm groundbreaking event was held Wednesday on Frank Martin Road, marking the start of the first solar field of its kind for the university and for Bedford County. Funding the project are Silicon Ranch Corporation, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Nashville Electric Service (NES), and Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC), whose representatives attended Wednesday’s event.
The Vanderbilt 1 Solar Farm groundbreaking event was held Wednesday on Frank Martin Road, marking the start of the first solar field of its kind for the university and for Bedford County.
Funding the project are Silicon Ranch Corporation, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Nashville Electric Service (NES), and Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC), whose representatives attended Wednesday’s event.
The goal for the solar farm will be to provide “renewable generation to the Tennessee Valley and supporting Vanderbilt’s goal to power its campus entirely with renewable energy,” according to a recent press release.
The solar farm will produce 35-megawatts (MWAC) by the end of 2022. Vanderbilt’s goal is to be completely carbon free by 2050, according to Chancellor of Vanderbilt University Daniel Diermeier.
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. So, what could essentially power 5,740 houses will be going to Vanderbilt.
Chancellor Diermeier, who attended the event, said the university’s energy consumption can be broken up into thirds—one third electricity, one third natural gas and heating, and one third transportation.
Therefore, this solar field will help feed into 70 percent of the one third that is the university’s electric use, according to Diermeier.
“We were always interested in having our electricity covered by solar, and then we had discussions with TVA on that...and they were very interested in pursuing that,” he told the Times-Gazette.
Vanderbilt is also negotiating with the City of Nashville to cover the rest of their green energy needs.
“We look at it as a development with many aspects to it. Through the economic development aspect, it allows us to shift our energy consumption towards sustainability. But most importantly, I think, it’s a model,” Diermeier said. Like medical centers coming up with the latest surgical techniques, universities should come up with ideas that others can adopt, Diermeier explained.
Diermeier said the Vanderbilt Hospital system is a different entity from the University. But Bedford County Commissioner Greg Vick remained optimistic about the connection with Vanderbilt on the County's education system, like through the new medical simulation lab at Community High School.
Silicon Ranch is a Nashville-based solar company and partner with gas company Shell. Vick said they “can help us as well because they’re in the renewable energy perspective, and we’re going to be needing that.”
Vick added, Vanderbilt will “feed the green energy component into the grid. That’s what Duck River will transfer...Do they affect it directly? No. But indirectly they do, and that’s part of all this.”
The field, located across the Walmart Distribution Center and near the future site of the 231 North Business Park, is in an ideal location since it is directly across from Duck River EMC electric substation, according to DREMC representative Elisabeth Thompson.
“The solar installation will tie into the Duck River system, so our river distribution system will be utilized,” she said.
Thompson assures, “All of that project goes to Vanderbilt, so it does not in any way negatively impact the Duck River membership. They utilize our system, but they have to pay for everything that goes along with it, so it doesn’t help or harm members.”
In March of 2021, the Price family sold ten acre lots of their land on 298 Frank Martin Road. Even though the land is in a prime industrial area, the flat land causes the area to have flooding—which is why it was originally zoned for agriculture use, according to zoning and planning director Chris White.
There were concerns when the project was initially brought before Bedford’s planning and zoning commission. In a July interview with the T-G, White questioned whether cutting down acres of trees and installing solar panels was really a “green practice.”
But TVA spokesperson Scott Fiedler told T-G that the Silicon Ranch engineers have a regenerative program that will bring in natural elements, like pollinators and native grasses, that are not in forested areas.
Still, as expressed by White, County officials are concerned that Nashville companies are using land in Bedford that are planned for industrial development in order to further their goals of reducing greenhouses gas emissions.
Watch for T-G's Saturday edition for more coverage of this solar farm project.