Harnessing Solar Power for the Valley

Thanks to a partnership among TVA, Nashville Electric Service (NES), Vanderbilt University, and Silicon Ranch, more large-scale solar power will be harnessed to reduce the carbon footprint of and drive prosperity in the Tennessee Valley.

NES has joined with TVA’s Green Invest program to help Vanderbilt University meet its goal of carbon neutrality through powering their campus entirely with renewable energy. Using solar power from two nearby farms – in Bedford and Moore counties – will reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent. Both solar facilities will be constructed, owned and operated by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corporation, one of the largest independent solar power producers in the country. 

“We believe that climate change and excessive carbon in the environment are serious multi-generational issues,” said Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor Eric Kopstain. “As a university, we feel it’s really important to be leaders in finding solutions to these problems, which is why we made an ambitious carbon neutrality commitment. Our goal is not just about Vanderbilt becoming carbon neutral, but to serve as a model for others in our community and beyond to address climate change.”

According to NES Energy Services Engineering Manager Tony Richman, working with Vanderbilt to achieve this goal has been the result of close collaboration for the past few years. “Each one of us brought our strengths and expertise to the table and we worked together on a solution that will benefit Vanderbilt University, Nashville and the Tennessee Valley,” he said.

The partnership was the first of its kind under TVA’s Green Invest program, which aims to attract, retain, and grow jobs and investment in local communities while demonstrating environmental leadership through sustainability and carbon reduction.

“We also see this partnership as a learning opportunity for students, so the proximity made Bell Buckle an ideal location for a solar farm,” said Kopstain. “As we gained insight into developers, we realized that Silicon Ranch is a partner that shares all of our values and can provide learning opportunities and internships. We want our students and staff to go to these solar farms to learn and incorporate into coursework.”

Investing in the Valley

Leading the way to reduce carbon positions Vanderbilt as an attractive university for staff, faculty and students. “As faculty and students look for institutions to work or attend school, they increasingly give preference to universities that have a leading view on important issues such as sustainability, carbon reduction, and the environment,” said Kopstain. 

According to Chris Hansen, vice president, TVA Origination and Renewables, the same is true for businesses across the globe. “Many of the companies who are moving to the Valley have similar values and expect sustainable approaches. Through sustainable energy offerings, TVA has unlocked a lot of economic development potential that might not come here otherwise.”

“Large-scale solar projects through Green Invest demonstrate the commitment of TVA, NES and Vanderbilt University to clean power and sustainability, and in turn they boost the region’s economy with investments and new, high-paying jobs,” said Richman. “It is estimated that up to 750 local construction jobs will be created to build the two solar farms.”

In addition, a recent study has shown that using solar energy has positive health impacts through improved air quality. It’s estimated that renewable energy equates to $22 to $50 million in public health benefits across America and $3 to $6.8 million in total benefits across the state of Tennessee.

Replicating the Partnership
While the Vanderbilt partnership was the first of its kind, it has paved the way for many such collaborative projects. “Vanderbilt is an early-adopter and a leader in the Valley when it comes to sustainability and we expect other institutions to follow their lead,” said Hansen. “NES has led the way in using Green Invest for their customers including Vanderbilt and the Metro Government of Nashville.”

According to Richman, “Working with Vanderbilt and TVA to supply the University with 100 percent renewable energy is a great example of how communities benefit under the public power model.  This kind of partnership is how you get good stuff done.”

“In addition to achieving Vanderbilt’s renewable energy goals, this partnership with TVA and NES is special because it helped create the Green Invest framework that local power companies and their customers can use to accomplish their renewable energy goals,” said Kopstain. “It’s tailor-made for other universities and companies to replicate.”

Since 2018, Green Invest has procured more than 2,000 MW of utility-scale solar and generated nearly $2.7 billion in solar investments in TVA’s service territory. Learn more about the Green Invest program by calling your local power company or visiting TVA.com/greeninvest.