Agricenter solar farm project may get help from firm formed by ex-governor

Published October 13, 2011

The Commercial Appeal October 12, 2011
By Tom Bailey Jr.
A proposal to build a five-acre solar farm at Agricenter International is still alive thanks to the 11th-hour intervention of a company formed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen and two of his cabinet members.
“The company Silicon Ranch agreed to provide the financing for the Agricenter project should that project be finally approved by Agricenter officials,” William Gillon, chairman of Agricenter International’s board, said today.
The project would cost $3.5 million-$4 million.
Silicon Ranch called Tuesday, just before today’s drop-dead deadline for a TVA subsidy that makes the project feasible, said David Weiler, marketing and sales director for Nashville-based Lightwave Solar Electric.
Lightwave Solar designed and would build the solar array for the Agricenter.
The proposal still needs the approval of the Agricenter International board and Shelby County’s Agricenter Commission.
Gillon said he’s working on scheduling a board meeting.
“All the details for the proposal have not been finalized and have not been approved,” Gillon said.
While in office, Bredesen, his economic development commissioner Matt Kisber and his revenue commissioner Reagan Farr created a strategy for promoting the solar industry in Tennessee.
After leaving office last year, they formed Silicon Ranch “to develop and operate utility-scale solar facilities in conjunction with strategic partners,” the company states on its website.
Weiler said that Farr, Silicon Ranch’s vice chairman and COO, called him Tuesday morning saying, “‘We heard about what you’re trying to do. Anything we can do to help?’
“They very quickly spelled out what they could do in terms of funding for the project.”
The Agricenter had been unable to resolve issues with an out-of-state financing company it had been negotiating with.
“These folks came along and created an environment that was much more agreeable for the Agricenter,” Weiler said of Silicon Ranch. “In an amazingly short period of time, everything pieced together.”
If the project is to move forward, the deadline now involves construction.
TVA would pay a premium of 12 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity generated, but the solar farm has to be completed by April, Weiler said.
The array of 4,000 solar panels — manufactured by Memphis’s Sharp Manufacturing Co. — would be placed on about five acres just west of Ducks Unlimited headquarters.
The array would be the only one in Tennessee with “single axis tracking,” Weiler said. That means the panels would move through the day to continually face the sun, making the system more efficient.
Agricenter would use the solar farm both for educational purposes and, in the long term, as a revenue generator. The system would produce about $360,000 worth of electricity a year that would be sold to Memphis Light Gas & Water Division.