The BrightRidge board voted Tuesday to develop a program that reserves 500 kilowatts of energy produced by a new 40-acre solar farm being developed near Telford by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corp. for purchase by residential and business customers.
BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said the 41,000-solar panel project, which is now under construction and is expected to be online by December, will allow his utility “to develop a solar community.” If the facility produces the annual 5 megawatts of power that it is projected to generate, Dykes said participating customers who buy a 20-year-lease or a month-to-month-lease will be eligible to receive a financial return on their power bills.
“This is a huge benefit to our customers,” Dykes said in a statement released after the board’s vote. “Most customers are unable to tap into solar because they can’t afford the installation and maintenance costs, their rooftops can’t afford the weight or they live in a multi-family unit. Community solar allows customers to participate without those drawbacks.”
The solar farm is being built and operated by Silicon Ranch with the agreement that Tennessee Valley Authority and BrightRidge will buy the power it produces. BrightRidge will also spend as much as $40,000 for the infrastructure to connect the solar array to the local power grid.
Dykes said BrightRidge could not afford to offer the low-cost program if it had to buy the land, obtain the permits and build the solar farm on its own. By partnering with Silicon Ranch and TVA, he said his utility’s board “is able to return a portion of the solar revenue stream to our solar community customers.”
The Washington County solar plant, which is the first of its kind to be built in Northeast Tennessee, is expected to produce enough energy to power more than 500 homes annually. Actual production at the facility, BrightRidge officials said, could vary with weather conditions and deterioration of the solar panels.
At a groundbreaking ceremony for the solar farm earlier this month, Matt Kisber, president and co-founder of Silicon Ranch, said weather models show a positive future for the facility. He also said the farm will serve customers for generations, noting the solar panels installed at the site should last 30 years or more.
In other business Tuesday, board members heard a report on the last phase of the utility’s transition from the Johnson City Power Board to BrightRidge. Angela Shrewsbury, manager of energy services and marketing, said the “last box” on the rebranding effort has been checked with the rollout of the new BrightRidge website.
“We’ve come a long way,” she told directors.
Shrewsbury said the latest redesign of the utility’s website “is very exciting stuff,” and allows her staff to make updates more easily and is more user-friendly to customers. She said use of online submission forms for service has increased by 35 percent under the new platform.