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Tennessee Startup Finding the Best Places in the Sunbelt to Help Battle Global Warming [Chattanooga Times Free Press]

By Dave Flessner

A Boston startup company committed to making snacks that are good for people and the planet has turned to a sunny spot in Jackson, Tennessee, for cleaner and greener power.

Although its solar generation is more than a thousand miles from the company’s production plant, Impact Snacks hired a new Nashville company to find the best site to maximize solar generation and displace the most carbon production at the best price. Clearloop, a startup company that former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen started with two of his former aides, determined that West Tennessee offered the best combination of affordable land for a solar array, maximum power generation from the sun, and the most displacement of fossil fuel generation.

“In our country, the renewable energy and green movement is being strongly propelled by the private sector,” Bredesen said. “And far and away the lowest hanging fruit to get serious about carbon reductions is in the electric grid.”

Electricity generation accounts for one fourth of all of the carbon emissions in the world and can most easily become carbon free within the next couple of generations, Bredesen said.

“It is not crazy to think that 50 years from now you could have an essentially carbon-free electrical generation process,” he said. “It would take some technological improvements, with things like batteries. I don’t think there is another sector of the economy where you could say that with any clear path from getting from here to there.”

Bredesen, who started Silicon Ranch in 2011 and has quickly grown the company into one of the South’s biggest builders of solar farms, added Clearloop to his business portfolio this year to aid smaller and startup companies find ways to use solar energy to cut their carbon footprint.

“This is a very early stage company, but I think the potential is enormous,” Bredesen said.

Bredesen said he initially got interested in solar power when he was Tennessee’s governor “more as an economic development tool anything else.” But he now sees solar as key to reducing man-made carbon emissions linked with global warming and climate change.

Because the Southeast boasts both a lot of sunshine and a bigger share of carbon generation than some parts of the country, the South is well suited for turning to the sun for more power generation. If the Southeastern United States were a country, it would be the sixth-largest polluter in the world despite ongoing coal plant closures by TVA and other Southern utilities.

Most of the private sector initiatives for renewable energy have come from major well-capitalized companies like FacebookAmazon and Google, each of which has commissioned solar arrays in the Tennessee Valley to help power some or all of their data centers and distribution facilities.

As evidenced by TVA’s Green Invest program that allows individual customers to contract for carbon-free power, private businesses are driving much of the growth in solar power beyond what electric utilities are building. Since January, Green Invest has generated $1.6 billion in economic activity in TVA’s service territory,

Silicon Ranch has installed about 135 solar farms in 14 states over the past decade and was selected by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the utility’s Green Invest program to supply entirely renewable energy for Facebook.

Clearloop is trying to bring that same green mentality and options to smaller or startup companies.

“We’re trying to partner with different businesses in a way similar to crowdfunding to build these facilities that would produce enough energy to power 200 homes in the Jackson area,” said Laura Zapata one of the founders of Clearloop, said abut the project for Impact Snacks.

Clearloop can be a one-time transaction for companies of all sizes. This means that companies don’t have to sign 15-20 year contracts, enabling commitments from companies without large risks.

“What I figured is we needed another way to help smaller or startup businesses and that’s how Clearloop got started as a way to most effectively use solar power to address climate change ,” Bredesen said. “For every Facebook, there are 500 smaller companies that can’t play in that purchase power agreement game.”

Clearloop uses what companies pay upfront for the extra value of having carbon-free generation, combined with federal tax incentives for solar, to help fund the capital costs of building the solar arrays which have the capability of generating power for decades without any traditional fuel costs. Clearloop’s mission is to help businesses partner together to build facilities like solar farms to create clean energy and severely decrease their carbon footprint, if not eliminate it altogether, and to build in the most effective sites to limit overall carbon emissions.

“Buying renewable energy in New England doesn’t buy nearly as much greenhouse gas reductions as replacing fossil fuel generation from the Midwest or parts of the Southeast,” Bredesen said. “We’re trying to focus on those areas where you get the biggest bang for your buck.”

Solar projects, which are often located in areas where land values are less, also can be an economic boon for some distressed areas, Bredesen said. In Jeff Davis County in Georgia, for instance, the Silicon Ranch is one of the biggest taxpayers in the county with two solar arrays built over the past five years.

Clearloop amplifies the power of brands by turning individual everyday purchases into clean energy, Bredesen said.

Read the original story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.


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