City eyes German solar panels

Friday, February 11, 2011
Solar panels like these could be in Lewisburg's future, according to positive thinking at City Hall.

Two Franklin-based businessmen have captured the attention of City Hall officials who want to know more about placement of solar panels on buildings to generate electricity and be paid for some of it.

"They pay to install, operate and maintain solar panels on the ground or on an existing building," Lewisburg Economic Development Director Greg Lowe reported this week to city councilmen and the Industrial Development Board.

The Tennessee Valley Authority "buys the energy from them and the city, or property owner, receives five percent of the revenue," Lowe said.

The building Lewisburg constructed in its business park -- on speculation that an employer would buy it - is seen, by Lowe, as a good place for solar panels from Vis-Solis LLC, a U.S. off-shoot of a German company. The entrance to Lewisburg Business Park is another location for solar panels, Lowe said.

Lewisburg could benefit from revenue generated by power sales from panels in the park, Lowe said. It's also an additional attraction for the spec building's sale because the buyer would have another revenue stream.

Dollar amounts were not discussed Monday at the Industrial Development Board meeting or the council's monthly session on Tuesday. Revenue depends on the number of the solar panels and the number of sunlit days.

Vis-Solis earns income for the limited liability partnership through TVA's Generation Partners program under federal energy policies that require power distributors to buy the electricity.

For example, Nashville Electric Service pays more than twice what it charges for power, according to an Associated Press story published here Wednesday.

Leaders of the Lewisburg Electric Service and the IDB will be consulted next month by Tim Hayes, one of the Franklin-based partners of Vis-Solis LLC, he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Hayes plans to attend the next IDB meeting on March 7, he said.

"I've worked with my partner and in the solar energy field for 10 years," Hayes said.

"We have a good business going in Europe... The closest ones we've had are in Germany."

Vis-Solis is developing a project in Virginia, he said.

The LLC was created in the third quarter of last year.

"We're brand new, but we (European operators) have more than 22 megawatts being generated in Germany," Hayes said.

The minimum area needed for a series of solar panels is one acre, he said. Vis-Solis won't install panels at a single-family residence. Solar panels could be placed on "25 acres or more," Hayes said.

If Vis-Solis' plan matures here with construction projects, local residents might land short- and long-term jobs.

"That's very possible, if they are qualified, and, for sure, Tennessee companies," Hayes said, "and for the on-going management" of the solar panels... These are state-of-the-art power plants that need to be managed over time."

Lowe sees some of the biggest industries in Lewisburg as having space for the solar panels. He mentioned CKNA and Walker Die Casting.

"I'm going to sit down with them to say, 'All you need to provide is roof space that you're not using,'" Lowe told the IDB on Monday.

A brochure from Vis-Solis states that the company will provide financing, engineering, procurement, construction and the operation of roof-mounted solar cells.

"If there's a catch..." Lowe said, "he slid it by me."

The economic developer's report is the first step toward what is, so far, perceived by several City Hall officials as a positive development for the city and businesses.