Solar Power Creating Jobs, Boosting Tennessee’s Economy

Tennessee’s state government may not being doing a lot in the way of offering incentives for its residents and small businesses to install renewable energy systems, but the Volunteer State’s economy is benefiting from growing use of solar power nonetheless.

More than 200 companies are manufacturing, installing or distributing solar power in Tennessee, boosting the economy and creating clean tech jobs in manufacturing, installation, power distribution, sales and support by taking advantage of the state’s renewable natural resources. These are much welcomed economic trends that are mirrored across the US, notes Joe Ing, executive director of the Brownsville-Haywood County Chamber of Commerce in an op-ed piece in the Jackson Sun.

In manufacturing, Sharp’s Hickory Hill plant in Memphis celebrated producing its 1 millionth solar panel last year. Originally opened in 1978, the plant turned out TV sets and microwave ovens until 2000 when Sharp management moved these activities to Mexico. Now, the plant is turning out Sharp solar panels 24-hours a day.

Billion-dollar solar industry investments have come Tennessee’s way in the form of Hemlock Semiconductor’s polysilicon plant in Clarksville and Wacker Chemie’s plant in Cleveland Hills. Well over 1,000 clean tech jobs are being created as a result.

Both of the investments came about as result of the efforts of former Governor Phil Bredesen, who invested a $62.5 million clean energy grant, courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), to create both the “Volunteer State Solar Initiative” and the Tennessee Solar Institute, both run by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.

The Solar Highway

Tennessee rates respectably high in terms of solar energy potential. In fact, solar insolation in the Tennessee Valley is 50 percent higher than the average in Germany, which has made itself the world leader in solar power, according to Generation Partners, a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) renewable energy initiative.

Despite its lack of a Renewable Power or Portfolio Standard (RPS), solar power projects are cropping up around the state as solar power project developers and local entrepreneurs work to boost solar power in the Volunteer State.

Though recently delayed due to the need to upgrade a grid interconnection line between the TVA’s grid and a Chickasaw Electric Cooperative sub-station, Tennessee’s largest solar power farm, Haywood County’s 5 megawatt (MW) West Tennessee Solar Farm, is scheduled to come on line in January.

Built by Chattanooga’s Signal Energy LLC, the project’s lead developer is the University of Tennessee Research Foundation based on a contract with the Tennessee Dept. of Economic and Community Development.

The solar panels Signal Energy has installed for the West Tennessee Solar Farm sit on unused land bordering interstate highway I-40. The TVA will purchase the emissions-free, renewable electricity, which is expected to yield about $100,000 per month in revenue.

The Tennessee Dept. of Transportation is leading the next phase of the project, which calls for developing an interstate exit leading to visitor’s educational center to be constructed in the middle of the solar power farm.

“They need to know how it operates. Everybody still thinks solar systems are based on the use of batteries,” Eric Rank general manager of Solar and Renewable Power Systems, told an Associated Press (AP) reporter. “There’s a lot of education that needs to be done.”

* Photo courtesy of Signal Energy

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

5 responses

  1. Some solar advocates talk about solar energy projects in terms of how many jobs are created. They say subsidies for solar create jobs. But what is not visible to the untrained eye is that subsidies also destroy jobs, and in sum, they are a net loss for the Tennessee economy.

    Who do you think pays for these subsidies? The answer is taxpayers and ratepayers pay for the subsidies given to the solar industry.

    So what happens to these tax and ratepayers as they are forced to pay more in taxes and electric bills? Of course, they can now spend less in other segments of the economy. There is no free lunch. Their reduced spending will directly cause economic losses and job losses in the balance of the economy.

    So on net, the solar subsidies just shift jobs from one activity to another. But we are worse off. The new solar jobs don’t have much economic value. If they did the market would have already employed people to install solar electric systems. But the jobs that were lost were more productive, since they were created by real demand. So on net, we shifted people from more productive activities to less. This causes lower overall economic output and lower aggregate wages.

    Imagine a small island of 100 inhabitants. Assume they were all productive in gathering food, providing water, building homes, etc. Now assume the island government takes 10 workers out of the job force and makes them dig holes. The overall output of the island will drop by 10%. This means that there will be 10% less goods and services available. There are still 100 inhabitants, but now only 90% the output. So everyone has less. Either prices increase or wages decrease, but the result is the same. Everyone can now afford only 90% of what they could afford before the 10 workers were ‘redirected.’

    This is very similar to what is happening with solar subsidies. Workers are moved from productive activities to less productive activities so overall output drops.

    So the next time you hear someone say, this or that solar company employed 100 people, it is more accurate to see it as 100 productive workers are now unproductive and we will all have less goods and services to go around.

    But it is easy to be fooled by the jobs myth. When the solar jobs are created, the number of jobs are easy to see and report in a news article. But when spending drops in the balance of the economy, the job losses are diffuse and difficult to count. You will see shirts with solar company logos, but no one laid-off in the restaurant business will wear a shirt that says “I lost my job do to solar subsidies.” But they did just the same.

    Tennessee would be wise to protect its citizens from the plundering of the solar lobby.

    1. You say that people hired by solar companies leave other jobs? What’s the basis for this assumption? What about new job creation? A lot better than working at Walmart, no?

      Then the subsidies…Fossil fuels have been and continue to be subsidized to a much greater degree than the renewable energy industry…Where have you been all these years?

      Then there’s all the unaccounted for environmental, economic and social costs of fossil fuels. What about those costs?

      Net-net, subsidizing and stimulating clean, renewable and distributed energy investment and job creation is a vast improvement over business as usual for the US and the world…

    2. “So what happens to these tax and ratepayers as they are forced to pay more in taxes and electric bills?”

      Why do you assume this? What’s the basis for your assumption? Or are you just a solar-hater googling solar articles?

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