Community Solar Programs Are the Future of Clean Energy in Nashville

By Laura Pochodylo

Being in the path of eclipse totality is not the only way the sun is making news in Nashville. Nashville’s community leaders are working to strengthen the city’s relationship with the sun and other renewable energy sources as a part of 2017’s Livable Nashville campaign.

Nashville’s challenges as a growing city are numerous: public transportation, traffic and housing, to name a few. A lesser known opportunity that Nashville leaders are aglow about is affordable access to alternative clean energy sources. Their primary focus, as a part of Livable Nashville is one of the cheapest and most abundant forms of energy: solar power.

Mayor Megan Barry launched a draft of her Livable Nashville campaign in February 2017, and its final form is expected by the end of this summer. Mayor Barry has stated that she has a goal of making Nashville “the greenest city in the Southeast.” The Livable Nashville committee contains local industry leaders, nonprofit organizers, small business owners and members of Nashville’s academic community, as well as representatives from Nashville Electric Service and environmental groups.

The committee is exploring many other quality-of-life projects for Nashville involving utilities, waste management, and more, but the solar power initiatives are of special interest to many local environmental groups. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which has a representative on the committee, has come out in support of the solar power plans.

“Mayor Barry’s Livable Nashville Committee heard from residents that they wanted more ways to go solar,” said Amanda Garcia of the SELC. “DeCosta Jenkins of NES [Nashville Electric Service] quickly identified community solar as a way to give Nashvillians access to clean renewable power and help the city achieve its climate and energy goals.”

Garcia is a staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Nashville office, as well as an advisor to the Livable Nashville committee on issues of climate and energy. The climate and energy subcommittee established a goal of setting Nashville up to generate 30 percent of its power from renewable resources like solar and wind by the year 2030.

“Nashville has a long way to go if it wants to achieve 30 percent renewables, but this is a great first step in the right direction,” Garcia explained.

While solar energy itself is inexpensive and abundant, the setup costs of getting solar panels in place is often cost-prohibitive for both municipalities and individuals. Although federal tax credits and other local incentives are available, cities and energy providers are faced with the challenge of making alternative energy more accessible to the public.

The Livable Nashville campaign specifically outlines plans to install solar panels on public buildings, creating guidelines for future construction to include solar panels, and working with NES to create a community solar program.

The community solar model is an energy-sharing program that extends benefits of solar panel farms to individuals. Energy consumers can buy shares in a solar farm to then receive credits from the produced energy on their bill. This revolutionizes access to solar energy by removing the startup costs of equipping a home or business with the required technology. States like North Carolina, Washington and Montana, among others, are already developing and using the community solar model.

The concept sounds simple, but implementation is both a political and financial challenge. Mayor Barry, however, contends the benefits are worth the effort, and her administration is up to the task.

“Working together, we can create a climate-resilient future that offers access to good-paying jobs, active lifestyles, more public spaces for recreating and community-building, and diminished financial burden on both taxpayers and businesses,” Mayor Barry wrote in the opening letter of her Livable Nashville plan.

Much of Nashville’s solar initiatives are still in the early phases of providing support for energy suppliers to make moves toward renewables, but don’t be surprised if you soon begin to see solar panels appearing within Nashville’s ever-growing skyline.

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