Huge solar farms planned near Selmer, Tennessee
6 August 2013
The Commercial Appeal
NASHVILLE — McNairy County is likely to be home by next spring to the two largest solar energy installations in the Tennessee Valley Authority region.
Plans call for the two solar farms near Selmer to have more than 160,000 photovoltaic solar panels spread over parts of 326 acres, with a total output of 40 megawatts. Each farm will be four times bigger than the largest current solar installation in the TVA system — the University of Tennessee’s 5-megawatt West Tennessee Solar Farm that opened last year alongside Interstate 40 in Haywood County.
TVA and Strata Solar, a private energy company in Chapel Hill, N.C., announced plans for the two 20-megawatt solar farms last week in Selmer, about 100 miles east of Memphis. Combined, the two would generate enough electricity in one year to power 4,000 typical households in the TVA area.
The first facility would be located on about 168 acres at the Mulberry Farm site off Skyline Road southeast of Selmer and the second on about 158 acres at the Selmer Farm site off Jones Street and Hivle Road south of town.
Cost estimates were not available, but a Strata Solar spokesman said the firm typically builds a 6.5 megawatt installation for $10 million to $15 million. A TVA spokesman said the project would be privately funded.
Selmer Mayor David Robinson said Monday that he believes the project will be good for the area and he doesn’t expect opposition. “Certainly it will create some jobs, at least temporarily during construction, and we were told around six permanent jobs. I believe it will help our tourism — people wanting to see what a big solar farm looks like.
“I also believe it will help with our industrial recruitment, especially with companies interested in renewable energy. It’s a pretty big deal. Barring any problems, they are talking about getting started in October or November and the power being online by next April,” the mayor said.
TVA is accepting public comments on the project through Aug. 13 online attva.com/environment/reports/strata, where complete details are available as part of a mandatory environmental review. The review, plus an interconnection study, must be completed before construction starts.
Strata Solar will build and maintain the solar farms, which will send electricity into the TVA grid through Pickwick Electric Cooperative, the local power distributor. TVA will buy the power at market rates. TVA already owns or buys 77 megawatts of solar energy.
“This project will add a tremendous amount of solar power to our already strong renewable lineup,” said Patty West, TVA director of renewable energy programs. “Because TVA is purchasing the output at market rates, the electricity will be among our cheapest solar power, moving us toward our vision of being a national leader in providing low-cost and cleaner energy.”
The environmental impact report says that after construction, no major physical disturbances would occur on the sites because there are no moving parts in the operation. The report says the operator will either mow vegetation among the solar arrays or allow sheep to graze on the fenced sites.
Most of the Mulberry Farm site is undeveloped land with small areas of trees and about 13 acres of wetlands. Part of the Selmer Farm site is inside the Selmer city limits but the majority of its acreage is undeveloped while a large part of its southern end is in agricultural production, according to the environmental report.
Construction would take about six months and employ up to 400 workers during peak construction, but during operation there would be no on-site staff, according to the report.
Strata Solar owns and operates commercial and utility solar energy systems, with more than 150 megawatts commissioned and one gigawatt (one billion watts or 1,000 megawatts) under development.