Solar farm groundbreaking advances Vanderbilt’s large-scale renewable energy partnership

Chancellor Daniel Diermeier joins representatives from Matt Kisber - Silicon Ranch Corporation, Jeanette Mills - Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Decosta Jenkins - Nashville Electric Service (NES), and Scott Spence - Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC) for the ceremonial groundbreaking on a new solar farm in Bedford County, Tennessee.  The 35 megawatt Vanderbilt | Solar Farm is expected to begin producing power before the end of 2022. Vanderbilt alumni Matt Beasley welcomed participants.

A bold partnership that will help Vanderbilt University power its campus entirely through renewable energy is a step further toward that goal with the Jan. 19 groundbreaking for a solar farm in Bedford County, Tennessee.

In 2020, Vanderbilt announced two pioneering agreements with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Nashville Electric Service to procure off-site large-scale renewable energy at a solar farm being built by Silicon Ranch Corp. The solar project will connect to the electric grid through the distribution system of the Duck River Electric Membership Corp.

“We are excited to partner with TVA, NES and Silicon Ranch on this landmark solar project, which we hope will provide a model of collaborative, forward-thinking solutions that can be adopted by other organizations in our region and across the country,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “The Vanderbilt I Solar Farm will generate jobs and tax revenues for the local community and also yield educational and research opportunities for our faculty and our students—setting a bold precedent for how we can continue to work together on behalf of our shared future.”

TVA’s Green Invest Program matches demand for green power from business, industrial and organizational customers with new utility-scale solar projects within the Tennessee Valley.

“This marks a milestone for the Tennessee Valley as we break ground on the first project ever developed under TVA’s Green Invest program, and we are thrilled to be doing so with Vanderbilt, NES, DREMC and Silicon Ranch,” said Jeannette Mills, TVA executive vice president and chief external relations officer. “Together with 153 local power company partners, TVA is building the energy system of the future. Green Invest has positioned us to bring together customers and renewable energy partners who are all investing in our communities.”

Vanderbilt’s initial partnership, announced in January 2020, will mitigate approximately 70 percent of the university’s annual indirect greenhouse gas emissions. Its second Green Invest project will supply enough renewable energy to offset the remaining 30 percent of the university’s annual indirect greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity.

Nashville-based Silicon Ranch, which is funding the project, plans to hire more than 250 craft workers—the majority of whom will be recruited from the Bedford County area and the military veteran community—to install the facility. Silicon Ranch will also own, operate and maintain the Vanderbilt I Solar Farm, a disciplined approach the company takes with every project it develops.

“Several of our colleagues and I are proud Vanderbilt alumni, and all of us at Silicon Ranch applaud this world-class institution for its bold and thoughtful leadership,” said Matt Kisber, co-founder and chairman of Silicon Ranch. “Thanks to Vanderbilt’s commitment and the vision of our friends at TVA, NES and DREMC, Silicon Ranch is on pace to invest well over $1 billion in renewable energy projects across the Tennessee Valley, and we are delighted to expand this legacy to Bedford County.”

“NES is proud to partner with TVA, Vanderbilt, DREMC and Silicon Ranch to reduce carbon emissions in our region,” said Decosta Jenkins, president and CEO of NES. “We are committed to providing safe, reliable and affordable power while continuing to listen to our customers’ needs.”

“Duck River Electric is thrilled to support this project and our friends at Vanderbilt, NES, TVA and Silicon Ranch on this journey,” said Scott Spence, president and CEO of DREMC. “It is a privilege to be part of helping Vanderbilt achieve their sustainability goals, while ensuring the members of Duck River Electric do not incur any of the expense.”

The 35-megawatt Vanderbilt I Solar Farm is expected to begin producing power before the end of 2022.

“We continue to push action and to be open to additional innovations, as addressing solutions to climate change is among our highest priorities,” said Vice Chancellor for Administration Eric Kopstain.

Last May, Vanderbilt announced that it was collaborating on a separate effort with the nonprofit organization Climate Vault to achieve carbon neutrality decades ahead of its initial goal of 2050. That initiative will effectively remove carbon pollution permits from regulated carbon markets while simultaneously stimulating research into emerging carbon removal technologies.