Friday, January 20, 2012

Phil Bredesen's Solar Firm to Build $90M Array in Georgia

The family farm of Nashville songwriter and music executive Steve Ivey would become the largest solar-power production site in Georgia under a plan announced Thursday by Ivey and a company led by former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and two former state department heads.

A $90 million, large-scale solar-power array on the Ivey farm near Athens, Ga., would produce 30 megawatts of electricity that would be sold to Georgia Power Co. under a deal expected to get final approval by the Georgia Public Service Commission next week, said Ivey, who also owns IMI, a Music Row publishing and production house.

“The farm has been in my family since 1935,” Ivey said. “I got the idea for the solar project when I was trying to figure out a new way to heat water at my house in Brentwood. I’m in the music business and very technology-minded, and got locked into solar several years ago,” he said.

Gov. started firm with ex-cabinet members

Bredesen’s Silicon Ranch Corp., a relatively new startup, has been part of the Georgia project only since last month. Silicon Ranch Corp. was started in late 2010 by Bredesen and the two members of his former administration. Bredesen is chairman of Silicon Ranch. Former state economic development Commissioner Matt Kisber is president and chief executive, and ex-Tennessee Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr is vice chairman and chief operating officer.

Ivey said he started Simon Solar Ranch LLC a year earlier to develop the solar project on his farm, which he initially financed himself. But he brought in Silicon Ranch in December after signing a 20-year agreement to sell the farm’s electricity to Georgia Power.

The solar project will cover 175 acres of Ivey’s 200-acre farm in Social Circle, Ga. Ivey remains president of Simon Solar and owner of the property, but Silicon Ranch is the majority partner in the Georgia project, Ivey said.

Technical assistance will be provided by Germany-based Phoenix Solar Inc., Kisber said.

A 2011 mandate from the Georgia Public Service Commission that Georgia Power develop a large-scale solar program led to the Simon Solar project and a separate one, by an unrelated company, that will produce 20 megawatts of electricity on another site in the state.

“We were directed by our Public Service Commission to look at incorporating more solar resources into our energy portfolio,” said Georgia Power spokeswoman Lynn Wallace. “We put out information to solar developers to let them know we were looking to purchase solar a few months ago, and it was done on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Kisber said Thursday that Silicon Ranch is still seeking financing for the project, but does not expect that to be a problem. To qualify for a federal grant to cover part of the costs, the project must be under way by the end of this year, and to comply with the Georgia Power contract, the solar farm must begin producing electricity by June 2015.

“It’s a large project, but we’re excited about it,” Kisber said. “I think it goes to show that solar power is gaining a lot of respect and traction in the Southeast.”

He said the project is the largest of its kind in the Southeast outside of Florida.


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