There are many people, churches and organizations in the town of Pleasant Hill as well as elected officials who have been active in environmental concerns for much of their lives.
In 2016 and 2017 Gail Ford, a resident of Pleasant Hill, began gathering interested people in brainstorming sessions about ways to combat climate change with renewable energy. From these discussions, a group of interested people began meeting with a representative from Volunteer Energy Cooperative to explore the possibility of installing a microgrid in Pleasant Hill.
Microgrids are localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional energy grid to operate autonomously, often powered by renewable sources like solar. Gil Hough, executive director of Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association and a developer with Restoration Services Inc., met with them, giving examples of solar arrays they have developed in Tennessee.
These were TVA-related solar projects that RSI had taken from project conception to successful operation. The majority of these projects worked closely with Vis Solis, a possible partner on the Pleasant Hill project.
VEC has applied for and successfully received a $500,000 technology development grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission for virtual microgrid research and will be working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory on the project. VEC proposes to use private equity funds to build the solar array at Pleasant Hill.
The projected possible site for the array includes a south-facing pasture at the end of Church Dr. in Pleasant Hill, owned by Uplands Village, as well as the bottomland adjoining the pasture and touching Hwy. 70 owned by Beth Gaynor.
Gaynor is especially interested in participating to honor her father, who worked for TVA. Therefore, the group is calling the project the Gaynor Solar Array. Investors are open to either buying or leasing property for the 20-year project.
The capacity proposed has grown from an original target of 1 megawatts to 3 megawatts, largely due to the improved panels and other technology available since the first conception of the project.
Once details are released by TVA about costs, then RSI can proceed with negotiating win-win terms with all principals. This project will have some funds for educational activities including signage, internships, school day trips to site, and elementary school-middle school writing contests.
Pioneer Hall Museum in Pleasant Hill has offered space there for a description of the array and how it operates.
VEC and its members in the Pleasant Hill community will significantly benefit from the Gaynor Solar Array through stabilized power delivery, improved grid resilience, and the creation of a tangible environmental sustainability asset. This project will also provide significant learning opportunities for all TVA customers as a pilot of emerging technologies. The microgrid study and storage technologies will help VEC learn how to better serve rural communities that have a higher potential for extended grid outages and loss of service.
Application for a 20-year 3 MW community solar array was submitted by Volunteer Energy Cooperative on behalf of the Gaynor Solar Array project to TVA's Flexible Research Project program in January. Along with this document were strong letters of support from local constituencies.
Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster wrote, “This project’s benefits include a low cost, low maintenance energy source, reliable and renewable energy supply, and incentives for business and industry in a disadvantaged rural area.”
The Rev. Glenna Shepherd, pastor of Pleasant Hill Community Church, said, “The ripple impact of this project could transform this community’s STEM educational opportunities for both local children and area college students. From science and ecology- based field trips for elementary children to internships for university students, this project could spark interest in solar energy that would benefit generations to come.”
Wrote Pleasant Hill Mayor Lisa Patrick, “Our understanding is that Pleasant Hill would become a beta site for a new solar setup, giving way to possibilities of future sites with the same configuration.”
Ann League, executive director of SOCM, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, penned, “The Gaynor Solar Array power generation produces 100% clean renewable and
sustainable energy. It does not use natural gas or other fossil fuels in its operation and does not generate harmful emissions. The project will demonstrate TVA’s willingness to proactively explore how it can use a free clean energy source versus more destructive and dirty sources such as coal and natural gas.”
From the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, “This project also offers a unique public-private partnership model for initial financing which will show us another way to create community solar arrays without the initial challenges of marketing participation ...”
A letter approved by the Uplands Members Assembly states, “We are particularly in favor of how this project has created a meaningful partnership between community, power provider, TVA, and independent financing for a 20-year proposal.”
Herschel Murner, executive director of Uplands Village, wrote, “Uplands Village is supportive of your exploratory and planning activities concerning the potential funding, construction, and operation of a solar energy installation in Pleasant Hill.”
Last week, videographer Jake Resor captured the proposed site in Beth Gaynor’s field and taped interviews with committee members to be viewed on YouTube soon.
TVA – the ball is now in your court as the Gaynor Solar Array Project awaits your approval. When the array becomes a reality, it will be a model for future community solar projects, especially, but not only in Tennessee, but also across the nation.