Last year, Tennessee jumped five spots in overall solar production nationwide from 20th in 2010 to 15th in 2011. The state’s growing solar energy industry now employs 6,500 Tennessee residents, primarily in small companies with less than 100 employees. Some larger companies, like Sharp Electronics and Silicon Ranch, operate in Tennessee as well.
Part of Tennessee’s growing solar success is the efforts made by the local utilities to incorporate solar into the state’s energy mix. The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) acknowledged this recently by awarding power cooperative Middle Tennessee Electric as a top three candidate for the Utility of the Year award.
Middle Tennessee Electric services most of Williamson County, just south of country music capital city Nashville. The company was recognized for “its leadership in solar installation projects,” singled out from a list of over 70 other utilities.
Tom Moreland, Residential Marketing Supervisor for Middle Tennessee Electric, said that the utility is honored by the attention.
“We have been and continue to be committed to providing our membership with the most energy efficient options, which includes renewable energy opportunities,” said Moreland.
The city of Franklin, Tennessee, located in Williamson County, recently entered into a public-private partnership in order to install a huge 200-kilowatt solar array. The array produces electricity that is then sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority, who in turn supplies Middle Tennessee Electric with a clean, “green” source of power for its customers. Franklin is already working with its private partner, Energy Source Partners based in Nashville, to bump the array up to 1 megawatt.
SEPA is a non-profit organization that works with utilities interested in adding solar to their energy mix.
SEPA President Julia Hamm said that as solar costs have dropped in the last ten years, solar energy has become increasingly mainstream as an energy option.
“Today, the solar train is moving full steam ahead, and most utilities recognize it’s time to get on board,” Hamm said.