Amanda Lyons and her two young children were among those who attended a groundbreaking on Tuesday for Washington County’s second solar farm, being developed near 215 Martin Road.

It was a short walk to the ceremony for Lyons, who lives just across the road from the site of the 9 megawatt power generating facility. The project is being built on 104 acres of former farmland by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and BrightRidge.

Lyons said she and her 10-year-old daughter Corrie and her son Colt, 6, are “really excited” to see the solar power project come to their neighborhood.

The alternative to the project, she said, might have been a subdivision that would have brought traffic, congestion and noise to her rural community in western Washington County. Lyons believes the solar development will be a “learning experience,” and she and her children are eager to watch the progress of the project from their front porch.

As a mother, Lyons said she is also pleased that the 24,375 solar panels to be installed at the Martin Solar Farm will generate clean energy that will be offered to East Tennessee State University and to her children’s schools and other K-12 classrooms in the region.

“We hope this project will lead to other advancements and improvements in our community,” BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said during the groundbreaking ceremony. Among those improvements, he noted, would be to lower his electric utility’s rates for renewable energy that would be passed on to public schools.

Construction of the Martin Solar Farm is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The project is expected to generate nearly twice the electricity of a similar Silicon Ranch operation in Telford, which became the first solar farm in Washington County, as well as the first of its type in Northeast Tennessee, when it became operational in early 2019.

The facility is named for the late Ralph Martin, who served many years as a director of the Johnson City Power Board before it became BrightRidge. The solar farm will be on farmland once owned by Martin.

“I served with Ralph Martin for many years,” said Johnson City Commissioner Jenny Brock, a current member of BrightRidge’s board of directors. “Ralph was kind and gentle. He was a smart businessman who helped many in our community.”

Matt Kisber, the chairman of the board of Silicon Ranch, said the Martin Solar Farm project will see his company create nearly 150 construction jobs needed to install a single-axis tracking system that will enable the solar panels to follow the sun across its daily arc. The company uses a similar technology at a facility in Chattanooga.

He said the Washington County solar project also represents a “reliable economic development tool” for the region.

“So many companies looking to make a decision on expansion or relocation want to know if there is a renewable energy source that they can rely on,” Kisber said.

The project calls for Silicon Ranch to own and operate the Martin Road facility.

BrightRidge officials said under the terms of its 20-year contract with TVA, the utility is allowed to buy 100% of the energy from the solar farm and sell it to its customers during the next 30 years.

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Press Senior Reporter

Robert Houk has served as a journalist and photographer at the Press since 1987. He is a recipient of the Associated Press Managing Editors Malcom Law Award for investigative reporting.

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