More than a year after it was first proposed, the Tullahoma Utilities Authority solar farm is scheduled to begin operating tomorrow, April 1, according to TUA officials.
TUA President Brain Skelton announced at the March 26 board meeting that TVA would officially start taking power from the Spring Creek solar farm on April 1, a date that had been previously worked out between TUA and TVA.
According to Skelton, the solar farm has been operational for about a week already in order for crews to test meters and other functions of remote data collection, but TVA will officially get everything working tomorrow.
“It was turned on this week for testing,” Skelton said, “and everything’s tested out fine.”
The solar farm operation experienced several months of delay, both due to regulatory restrictions and weather issues, Skelton said.
“We had to work through the federal regulatory side of TVA, and it just took a while to get all that done,” he said. Between that and dealing with some of the wettest conditions on record over the last few months, the project took longer than expected to get off the ground.
One of those regulatory delays was a “culture review” from federal agencies, Skelton said in last August. The purpose of such reviews, he added, was to ensure the location of the solar farm would not disturb historically significant features, like Native American artifacts or burial grounds, for example.
Because the project involved participation from TVA, which is a federal entity, the farm was subject to more regulatory checks and delays, Skelton said in September.
However, according to Skelton, once the crews arrived from Cantsink of Atlanta, the board-approved contracting firm tasked with constructing the solar farm, the whole project only took a few weeks.
“From the time they really went out and started laying out the layout of the farm itself,” he said, “it was less than a month.”
Skelton also said the authority will also hold a ribbon cutting at some point in the near future in order to fully dedicate the farm.
First, Skelton said, TUA will need to install a fence around the installation, in order to keep the integrity of the farm intact.
Skelton said TUA is currently in the bidding process for the fence construction, but once the fence is completed, there will be a full dedication and ribbon cutting.
According to Skelton, the 250kW farm should be able to power approximately 25 average-sized homes 24 hours a day, if TUA’s power estimates are correct.
The 1-acre farm is also designed so that it may accommodate future expansion if the board desires it.
“We … designed it in quadrants, so if our board decides in the future to build more solar, we can mirror that [acre] with another 250kW,” he said. There is currently room for three more 1-acre farms, Skelton said, meaning TUA could add another 750kW should the board approve such a measure.
“We can actually quadruple the size of whatever we’ve built,” Skelton said.
The farm also came in under budget, according to TUA officials. Original estimates for the cost of the solar farm hovered in the $500,000 to $700,000 range, but in August the board was able to approve a contract with Cantsink of Atlanta for just under $300,000. Cantsink proposed a project bid of just $290,000 for the farm construction costs, according to a board memo.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.