Solar plant scheduled to begin generating power

JACKSON, Tenn. - The largest solar electrical generation plant within the seven state Tennessee Valley Authority is now in Jackson and is scheduled to begin generating electricity very shortly.

The 5.5-acre solar farm is located at 96 American Drive, on the north side of Flex Drive across from the north entrance of Procter & Gamble.

The solar farm is divided into two sections. One will supply electricity directly to the TVA. The other will supply electricity to an adjoining warehouse and plant, once the home of American Olean and Dal-Tile. The plant is now owned by Jackson Industrial Holdings, a subsidiary of New York-based Meridian Development Partners, said Michael Katz, managing director. This is the company's first venture into solar electric generation for individual buildings and power grids.

"Lessons from here will be used on other properties," he said.

Those lessons will help Meridian and other companies turn abandoned warehouses into fully or partially self-sustainable warehouses, giving new life to thousands of abandoned properties throughout the nation, he said.

"The overabundance of vacant industrial property in this country is huge," said Katz, whose company specializes in purchasing and rehabilitating industrial property. "Doing this will help rejuvenate them for new uses the former owners did not see."

The first section of the solar farm contains 4,704 Sharp solar panels manufactured in Memphis, said Robbie Thomas, president of Efficient Energy of Tennessee, which is installing the electrical generation farm. Each of the panels is capable of generating 224 watts that can produce a total of 1,000 kilowatt hours of direct current power hourly, he said. These panels are connected to the TVA grid through power lines provided by Jackson Energy Authority.

The TVA will pay the daily market rate for the electricity produced by the solar panels and also for renewable energy credits created by the solar farm to National Energy Group, the farm's owner, Thomas said.

The second section of the solar farm contains 210 panels capable of producing 47 kilowatts of DC power each hour. This section of panels will be connected directly to the former Dal-Tile warehouse to supplement electrical power provided to the building, Thomas said.

The total cost to construct the solar farm is around $5 million, he said. The federal government will reimburse about $1.5 million, or 30 percent, in federal grants, Thomas said. No state or local grants were provided to offset the cost of installation, he said.

Meridian Development Partners bought the former Dal-Tile building in the summer of 2007, Katz said. The warehouse has ceilings ranging from 18 feet to 29 feet high. Katz said his company will redesign the building's interior to suit multiple tenants instead of one industrial client.

A portion of the former Dal-Tile warehouse currently is being leased to one company for storage. There are no other businesses inside the main building at this time, Katz said.

But the building is in a highly visible industrial park, it has a railroad spur to its east and Interstate 40 is less than eight miles to the north. The addition of the renewable energy source that will help offset the daily cost of operations should make finding future tenants for the building even easier, Katz said.

"Jackson is the hub of an automotive nexus that seems to be reasserting itself," he said, "and renewable energy sources are now a big part of a company's strategy."


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