An Innovative Solar Microgrid Project Could Be a Win-Win-Win for Jackson, Tennessee

Solar project to deliver reliable, affordable, clean energy and benefit the local economy has overwhelming support — with exceptions.

Chris Carnevale | August 13, 2021 | Solar, Tennessee, Utilities

A clean-energy project in West Tennessee recently caught our attention at SACE as a noteworthy innovation designed specifically to bring large benefits to its nearby community.

A renewable-energy developer was asked by members of the Jackson, Tennessee community to build a clean energy solar microgrid for their city. Its benefits to Jackson will include generating local economic development, creating jobs, providing educational opportunities in renewable energy, lowering energy costs for customers, and building the city’s tax base.

The facility will be leased by a Tennessee nonprofit corporation called the Jackson Sustainability Cooperative. Its members are businesses near the facility on Roosevelt Parkway that have a high demand for electricity. They will buy the electricity from their co-op.

The microgrid consists of solar, battery storage, and electrical equipment in separate buildings, underground wiring to customers’ buildings, and smart electrical panels and meters inside those buildings. It will provide clean energy directly to a few nearby large industrial companies, supplementing the power they buy from the local power company. The microgrid will not be connected to the power company’s lines. Instead, it operates in parallel, delivering power during the times of day when electricity demand and cost are at their highest.

Lower energy costs and reliable power supply 

This supplemental power will help local businesses cut costs by offsetting the amount of energy they need to buy at these expensive “peak demand” times. By tightly regulating frequency and voltage, electric surges, dips, and spikes will be avoided, and this preserves their expensive machinery. Since the facility will be completely storm hardened and all wiring underground, it will also provide uninterruptible power whenever the grid fails.

The microgrid will also lower power costs for the local power company Jackson Energy Authority (JEA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and so indirectly for all their electric customers, by reducing wear and tear on the power lines, substations, and electrical equipment through offloading high demands.

This project will distinguish Jackson as a national leader in solar microgrids and could represent an asset that would aid in attracting and recruiting additional businesses to open up shop locally. For existing businesses in Jackson, the economic savings, exceedingly reliable power supply, and high quality, regulated power, could be a factor in growing and doubling down on their investment and employment in the Jackson community.

The project is a win-win-win scenario for the project developers, the businesses receiving the energy, the local power company, and TVA. But perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of this project would be local community members.

Good jobs and economic benefits for local community

Local people will be employed to install and maintain the project. A professional Economic Impact Study by SynEnergy showed that the ten-year economic impacts–both direct and indirect–of the project would be $231 million, including 678 full-time equivalent jobs in the construction period (of course some jobs would be for local people and some would be for others) and 22-28 permanent, full-time jobs thereafter, and millions of dollars in new local tax revenues. This tax revenue could fund community priorities like schools, libraries, community centers, emergency services, or programs. Moreover, the project would bring educational and career-development opportunities as the development team plans to have an internship program and partner with local schools. All this can improve the lives of Jackson residents.

This type of investment could greatly benefit the local community in Jackson, where the United Way of Tennessee reports that – even before the COVID pandemic – one in three people living in Jackson’s 38301 zip code lives in poverty and the wages of nearly half of Jackson residents are not living wages, barely covering basic necessities

Overwhelming support, with an exception

So it is no surprise that the response from the local community to the project has been overwhelmingly supportive. At two public forums to inform neighbors about the project, it received near-unanimous support. This local support was further reflected in a 7-0 vote to approve the project by Jackson’s Planning Commission.

 With all these potential benefits and local support, why would anyone or any organization try to block ensuring reliable, low-cost electricity to improve people’s lives and attract economic development?

The answer may surprise you, it appears that both TVA and JEA are attempting to block this innovative project at multiple levels. SACE is looking into the reasons behind TVA’s actions.

In a future post, we will explore why such a worthwhile project coming to Jackson, TN, with cutting-edge technologies combining solar, battery storage, and micro-grids delivering reliable, affordable, clean energy to benefit the local economy would be opposed by the nation’s largest public power utility, which is an extension of the Biden Administration’s push for clean, climate-friendly electricity technology.

Stay tuned…

Chris Carnevale
Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Chris is SACE’s Coastal Climate and Energy Manager and South Carolina State Affairs Liaison. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help build a…
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