An event took place this week that demonstrated what can happen when the usual political, economic, and jurisdictional lines are set aside for a common purpose — in this case, a massive solar energy facility just north of Memphis.
First, a bit of backstory: In a recent cover story, the Flyer's Toby Sells reported the problems of the West Tennessee megasite, a 4,000-acre piece of land in Haywood County that has been the potentially most promising industrial location in the state ever since it was first set aside for development in the administration of former Governor Phil Bredesen in 2006.
Since the time of its first creation, the megasite has remained an unfulfilled promise, at least partly because it has, unhappily, also remained incomplete, with anticipated additional revenues of $80 to $100 million needed to make it, in the idiom of industrial site development, "shovel-ready."
- Jackson Baker
- Left to right: Ed Haley, Millington city manager; Matt Kisber, CEO of Silicon Ranch; John Ryder of TVA.
Would-be clients have come and gone, looking the site over, and ended up taking their shovels — and their billions — to competitive sites elsewhere. The Tennessee gubernatorial candidates of 2018 vied with each other in forecasts of what they could do to break the stalemate, and make of the area the economic success it was originally conceived of. One of those candidates, former state Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd may have owed his defeat in the Republican primary at least partly to the fact that he had, fairly or unfairly, become identified with the stagnated project.
All in all, as our cover story indicated, less of the fault lies with any particular individual than it does with the failure of governments — local, state, and federal — to agree on the financial and logistical means of completing the project — including, crucially, the issue of waste removal.
That's all the more reason to take heart from an altogether different developmental history that has occurred — and reached a stage of formal completion this very week — some miles to the west, in suburban Millington, where the Tennessee Valley Authority, long-time power source for this part of the Mid-South; the U.S. Navy, for decades the chief landlord in the Millington area; the city of Millington; the community's chamber of commerce; its Industrial Development Board; and various other local interests have all combined to imagine and see through to development a new 53-megawatt solar farm, which will easily be the state's largest. It is three-and-a-half times the size of any other such facility in Tennessee, and some 10 times the size of the highly visible solar farm on I-40 near Stanton, near mile marker 44.
The new facility could light the way (in every sense of that term) to enormous future advances in the harnessing of renewable energy sources. Employing the impressive number of 580,000 sun-tracking photovoltaic panels, the complex, built by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch, Inc., could generate enough power for 7,500 homes. It is also designed to help fulfill a larger U.S. Navy initiative to maintain long-term energy sources that are relatively safe from industrial outage or sabotage.
At this juncture, there seems to be no hand-wringing or worries about attracting users for the project. Backers are calling it a success already at hand, obvious in its short- and long-term utility, as well as being a harbinger of future development to come in the Memphis area and in West Tennessee at large.
It would seem congratulations are in order for the community of Millington and for the various stakeholders who made this vision come about.