Five Points in Franklin Installs the 2nd Largest PV System in MTEMC District

Published January 12, 2011

Up on the roof – New solar power system helping to make Starbucks coffee

When you get your cup of coffee at Starbucks at Five Points, did you know it may have been made with solar energy?
Karen Noel Cochran, who owns the historic White Building, recently worked with Lightwave Solar Electric to install a 15 kilowatt photovoltaic system with 64 panels on the building’s roof as well as updating heating and air units for the building, which houses not just Starbucks, but several other retail shops as well as offices on the building’s second floor.

“I really wanted to jump start the city and demonstrate with my building how it was possible to make a switch to renewable energy and create an energy efficient buildings,” Cochran said. “Historic buildings can really consume energy.”
Working with Tennessee Valley Authority through its Generation Partners program as well as with Middle Tennessee Electric, Cochran’s system is providing green energy for her building as well on some days, excess that is going back into the grid for others to use.

“The electricity that is generated is credited to (her) electric bill and then used by building,” said Steve Johnson, president of Lightwave Solar. “There are no batteries for maintenance, no moving parts. You can go on vacation and it keeps making electricity.”

It took three weeks to complete installation of the panels, which are ballasted and not connected to the roof. The panels are designed for 90 mph wind loading and face southwest, which Johnson said is good “because southwest will generate more in the afternoon and that will be valuable for them” in terms of the amount of power which can be generated.
Through the Generation Partners program, there is a contract between the customer and MTEMC that TVA sponsors and finances, although the customer pays for the cost of the project.

“The customer gets a credit of 22 cents above the normal general power rate for all the power generated by the solar generation system,” said Dick Harris, power utilization engineer with TVA who came to Franklin last week to see the project. “The customer still has to pay the normal electric usage rate as seen by MTEMC revenue meter.”
And while Cochran had to pay for the system’s installation, she will get a tax credit of 30 percent of the costs, with no cap on the credit amount for solar photovoltaic systems.

“There are several incentives,” Johnson said, adding that the 15 kilowatt system on Cochran’s building is the second largest in MTEMC’s service area, with the largest also being located in Franklin. Cochran also got a Tennessee Clean Energy Technology grant that paid for 40 percent of system, Johnson said, saying the TN-CET program is funding with “money from an oil gouging lawsuit in the late 1970s that the federal government won against the oil companies.”

“Then there is a 30 percent tax credit, which is like cash in April, dollar for dollar. Then the third benefit is five-year accelerated depreciation,” Johnson said, which is shown as a deduction but is an incentive.

“The fourth benefit is Generation Partners, where she is getting a premium for generating this electricity,” said Johnson. “Karen is into renewable energy, but she is also a good businesswoman.”
Cochran said with all the incentives, it did make good business sense to get involved in the project.

“I am an environmentalist, but on top of everything, I wanted to make a prudent business decision,” she said of the system, but also the lighting retrofits, programmable thermostats and other energy efficient features she added to the building. “It is certainly making tenants happy and doing something for the community and helping them to think more about making the switch.”

Cochran’s son, Johnny Noel, worked with her on the lighting retrofits through his company, Energy & the Environment, and she serves as a member of the alternative energy subcommittee of the city’s Sustainability Task Force. She is also a trained Climate Project presenter.

Franklin Mayor John Schroer hasn’t seen Cochran’s solar photovoltaic system, but shares the vision that this could be the wave of the future for the city.

“I think it is the way we need to look at things,” Schoer said. “Before I knew she was doing it I was standing on top of the Fourth Avenue parking garage and I looked out across the tops of Main Street and thought, ‘What a great place for solar collectors because the roofs are flat and face the right direction,’” Schroer said, adding that he learned a month later Cochran was undertaking the project, which is not visible from the street.

“It is hard to showcase it, but it did partly pass historic zoning ordinances because it is not seen,” Cochran said. “We could do this on every single rooftop. Small communities around the country are really beginning to do this, taking charge of making their communities really sustainable.”

A “Making the Switch” ceremony will be held Thursday, July 9, at 9:30 a.m. behind the building, Cochran said, adding that Starbucks will provide refreshments

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