April 19, 2016 - 1:12 PM EDT
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State's largest solar array planned for Millington

April 19--A partnership involving the Navy, TVA and local utilities and agencies announced plans Tuesday to build Tennessee's largest solar-generating facility at a 400-acre site in Millington.

Located just north of Glen Eagle Golf Course and east of Millington Regional Jetport, the solar array will cost more than $100 million and feature 580,000 photovoltaic solar panels tracking the sun's daily arc. It will generate enough power to serve 7,500 homes.

Although a groundbreaking is set for Friday -- Earth Day -- construction won't begin until next year.

The project will be built by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corp., one of the nation's largest developers of solar power. The company bought 330 acres from the Millington Industrial Development Board and is leasing another 72 acres from the Naval Support Activity Mid-South base.

The electricity Silicon Ranch generates -- up to 68.5 megawatts of direct current and 53 megawatts of alternating current -- will flow onto Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division lines and to the Tennessee Valley Authority grid. TVA has entered into a long-term agreement to buy the power from Silicon Ranch.

The site is more than 10 times larger than a solar array developed along Interstate 40 near Stanton, Tennessee, about five years ago.

"This is the largest solar farm in Tennessee ...," said Chris Stanley, a TVA spokesman.

The project was approved only after TVA ensured it was "competitively priced renewable energy," agency officials said in a news release.

"We're seeing the cost of solar come down. That's happened over the past few years as technology has improved," Stanley said.

Solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. But with the price of solar energy having dropped by more than 50 percent since 2009, utility-scale projects such as the one in Millington are becoming more common.

The federal Department of Energy estimates that the "levelized" cost of solar power was $125 per megawatt-hour in 2013, compared to around $95 for conventional coal-burning units and $73 for combined-cycle natural gas plants.

The Millington project is part of a larger initiative by the Navy to develop renewable power sources at its bases. The "One Gigawatt" initiative will help provide for energy security, "and that lends itself to national security," said Amanda Rae Moreno, spokeswoman for the Millington base.

Matt Beasley, senior vice president of business development for Silicon Ranch, said the array will employ single-axis technology, in which panels move to receive the maximum amount of sunlight throughout the day.

Construction will create 300-400 jobs, Beasley said. Work will begin only after the necessary permits have been obtained and transmission facilities have been built.

Last year, a solar project planned for nearby Covington, Tennessee, encountered intense opposition from neighboring residents and was rejected by local planning officials.

But officials involved with the Millington facility said they don't anticipate any such opposition.


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