After it sent out a request-for-quote in September 2020, Maryville Electric Department has what it was looking for — a solar farm vendor willing to build a plant in the area and sell power to the city.
A growing firm with 142 locations in 15 states, Nashville-headquartered Silicon Ranch won the city’s RFQ with a 27-page sales pitch, beating out eight other interested groups, none of which were based in Tennessee.
While Silicon Ranch has not signed a contract, officials said the hunt for property to build a solar farm is geared up and a decision could be imminent.
Maryville Utilities Director Baron Swafford was confident enough the deal would go through that he presented it during the January retreat of the City Council.
He said the Maryville Electric Department wants to buy 4½ MW (megawatts) of solar energy output, a facility that would take up an estimated 40 acres of land — about 30 football fields.
The city’s peak megawatt usage is around 130 MW, Swafford said, so the city doesn’t need to buy much.
“It’s a little piece but it’s a significant piece,” he told council members. However, should the contract score a green light, the city won’t have any monetary investment in the project: It’s all Silicon Ranch’s coin.
“We’re going to sign a purchase of power agreement for 20, 25 or 30 years,” Swafford said. “And we’re going to agree to buy power from them at 4-5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is cheaper than (buying power) from Tennessee Valley Authority.”
He noted that would be about $200,000 in savings each year for Maryville Electric Department, which serves more than 20,000 homes and businesses in Maryville and Rockford.
Silicon Ranch Chief Commercial Officer Matt Beasley told The Daily Times by phone Tuesday every project is different and there was no telling how long it could be before a contract was inked and the Maryville project operational.
Bringing solar to a locale means more than just acquiring land and signing contracts, he explained.
“There’s an education process required when we come to a new community,” Beasley said. “(Residents) don’t know anything about it and, in the absence of information, rumor and innuendo can fill the void and you’ve got to address certain myths.”
He highlighted Silicon Ranch’s dedication to integrating its projects into each community. The firm has fulfilled 100% of the projects it signed onto, Beasley said, something not every solar provider can claim.
“We keep our promises and we don’t plan on changing that in this town,” he said.
The company already has a team dedicated to the Maryville project, and Beasley said though many endeavors require studies and permits that take time (at least three years in some cases), this one might be a quicker turnaround.
“We’re working to identify the site and ultimately execute the project, but I expect this will be a 2022 (delivery),” he said.
Silicon Ranch’s numbers have skyrocketed since it was established by founding Chairman and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2010. Since then, the outfit has gone from around five to more than 70 Tennessee-based employees. Most of its projects are concentrated in the southeastern United States.
In 2018, energy behemoth Shell acquired a 44% ownership stake in the company.
Unlike many solar companies, Beasley said, Silicon Ranch owns and operates its facilities instead of just building them and hiring a contractor to run them.
If the deal goes through, Maryville Electric Department documents show Silicon Ranch would be required to build inside the city’s service territory. Maryville is the only Blount-based power provider seeking solar power, but Alcoa Electric Director Ryan Trentham told The Daily Times on Tuesday that Silicon Ranch also courted his office with a voice message.
Alcoa is not currently interested, but Trentham said city leaders will keep an eye on how local energy options evolve after renewed 2020 contracts with TVA allowed both cities to buy 5% of their electricity from non-TVA sources.