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GoGreenET Achievers nominations open

We're looking to tell the stories of companies that have made significant progress in recycling/waste reduction, energy efficiency, renewable energy and community outreach, or in another area we may not have even considered.


We're looking for a specific project, process change or initiative in each category that can be used as a model for other organizations.

The nomination form can be found here. The deadline to submit a nomination is March 20. 

Winners will be featured in the Greater Knoxville Business Journal's May issue.

 

Knoxville startup company Grow Bioplastics was selected as one of four finalists in the 2017 Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge for its biodegradable plastics made out of lignin to eliminate oil-based plastics for farmers, home gardeners and greenhouse and nursery managers.  

The company was awarded $15,000 for being selected and will compete at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 98th Annual Convention & IDEAg trade show in Phoenix in January.

The challenge judges looked at each business owner's idea, potential impact that that idea on the agriculture industry across the nation, the traction the company had and the team the company put together, Tony Bova, co-founder of Grow Bioplastics, said.

Grow Bioplastics' product would help farmers save money and reduce waste sent to landfills, Bova said.

"In the farming industry, especially crop growers, a lot of them use plastic films, mulch films, to lay over their field to increase the amount that can grow," Bova said. "Now they have to be ripped off the field and sent to the landfill at the end of the season. It costs at least $100 an acre or more, so our technology would allow them to buy a biodegradable plastic at the same price, and then they can plow the plastic into the field to break down naturally."

The company will pitch its product to a panel of judges and attendees at the final conference Jan. 8 in competition for the Rural Entrepreneur of the Year award and $15,000, which Grow Bioplastics would use to create prototypes of its product for farmers to test. 

Pioneer Heating and Air doubles generated solar energy

Pioneer Heating & Air expanded the solar PV system at its Mill Branch Lane facility. The company has increased its solar energy system to 47.48 kW, effectively doubling the solar energy it generates.  The system was commissioned and has been producing power since Sept. 8, 2016. 

 With the combination of solar radiation exposure and high quality modules, the addition of the 74 module system is estimated to produce 28,491 kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy annually.  The system designer and installer, Green Earth Solar, LLC estimates that the system will reduce emissions by 30 lbs. of nitrogen oxides, 70 lbs. of sulfur dioxide and 41,603 lbs. of carbon dioxide each year.  Through TVA's Green Power Provider Program, the grid tied solar PV system will also generate income every month to help offset the electricity bill for Pioneer Heating & Air.

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Small businesses in the clean-energy sector again will have access to the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory resources with use of the DOE Small Business Vouchers Pilot. The voucher program will allow businesses to access expertise and technological resources that might not otherwise be available in order to bring innovative clean energy products to market.

The pilot is part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's National Laboratory Impact Initiative portfolio, which supports the relationship between the EERE and the national laboratory enterprise and works to increase the industrial impact of DOE national labs on the U.S. clean energy sector. 

Small businesses with little to no experience with DOE labs are encouraged to submit requests, as EERE hopes to increase the number of new small businesses participating in the pilot. The pilot started in fall 2015 and launched in second round of funding spring 2016. During the first two rounds, 76 small businesses from 25 states were awarded almost $15 million in vouchers. 

Vouchers range from $50,000 to $300,000 per small business to be used to perform collaborative research or to access lab instrumentation or facilities. Businesses interested in SBV funding must be U.S.-based and U.S.-owned with no more than 500 full time employees worldwide. 

A total of $12 million is available for vouchers in the third round, as well as the upcoming fourth round of funding. To check company eligibility or submit a request, visit SBV.org. The deadline to apply is Nov. 10, and selected companies must provide a 20 percent in-kind cost share for completing voucher work. 

Aries Energy powers way into community solar

Aries Energy, a Knoxville-based company founded in 2011 to deliver simple, profitable and responsible renewable energy solutions, has jumped head first into community solar, one of the hottest topics in renewable energy.

Community solar is a large-scale system that allows solar energy to be deployed through a utility.

"The very nature of the business structure of the project is a win for everybody," Aries president Harvey Abouelata said. "If it goes through a utility, the utility's not left out of the picture."

A utility has power distribution, management expertise and could perform the ongoing operational maintenance, said Abouelata. Public partners then could be brought into the business structure to take advantage of tax credits, incentives and depreciation.

"You have the scale of the community, the tax credits and incentives because you have a private partner in there, so that's lowering the costs, and then you have the community," Abouelata said. "If I'm an individual that's renting, and I want to participate in clean energy, how do I do it? I can subscribe to this community solar project that's controlled by the utilities and I can put my money where my mouth is.

"It's really exciting, because whatever level I want to participate in ... I can be an individual and subscribe to essentially one panel, or I can be a corporation and subscribe to half a megawatt. But, I don't have to worry about people walking on my roof or construction or maintenance. That's all done by the utility. Again, it's a win for everybody."

According to Abouelata, that's why community solar is a popular topic.

"We joined the South Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance, and one of the first meetings we went to, the topic was community solar," he said. "I just came from one of the subcommittee meetings that (Nashville) mayor (Megan) Barry put together. The topic? Community solar. Every time we turn around.

"There was a project in Spartanburg, S.C., that was largely surrounded by community solar that Harold Mitchell put together. It's one of those things you're going to see more and more."

Aries is putting the finishing touches on a 1.37-megawatt community solar project for Appalachian Electric Co-op in New Market. The company in August broke ground on Tennessee's first utility-scale community solar installation, which will serve 35,000 members in the electric cooperative.

The Tennessee Valley Authority provided a grant for the AEC project, and costs will be fully funded through revenue generated via power purchase agreement with TVA.

"(TVA provides) low cost and reliable power," Abouelata said. "We're very fortunate, because that's a huge part of economic development for Tennessee. Tennessee is on the map because of those partnerships with TVA. And TVA getting behind renewable energy has been huge in the economic development in Tennessee. ...

"Bringing the two together, utilities and renewable energy, has been brilliant, because millions of dollars have come into our state and it has been an economic boom because they have supported solar."

Aries made news in September when it announced a working agreement with SMS Energy Group of North Carolina to expand its large-scale solar projects in the Southeast. The venture will allow both companies to take advantage of the other's strengths.

"SMS Energy is a company that has a long history with utilities," Abouelata said. "They've got tons of experience over there. We've got tons of experience on the solar side of it. We're going to hit North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee very hard with this working relationship, and take advantage of each other's skills. That's pretty exciting. That puts us into a whole different world, because now we have that utility, high-voltage experience mixed with (our experience).

"We've been working with them on bids and sharing each other's knowledge base. It makes us both stronger, so we're excited about that."

SMS Energy Group also has operations in South Carolina. Aries is evaluating the Aiken, Columbia, Greeneville and Spartanburg markets and soon will open an office in South Carolina. The office will initially be home to one full-time salesperson, but the company expects to hire several more employees there by the end of 2017.

Jonathan Hamilton, who joined Aries earlier this year as a customer service manager, will lead the Southeast expansion.

Abouelata said that the time was right for Aries to develop a working agreement with SMS.

"The growth idea, one of the things for us and SMS getting together, is we realize that growth is going to be in the utility side," he said. "They realize they're getting more customers asking for solar, so they needed a solar partner. We just came together. The timing was right. It was perfect."

Sustainability news roundup

The last few weeks have been a buzz of good news for Tennessee and the Knoxville area in general when it comes to sustainability and envrironmental awareness.  

1. More clean energy jobs

About 2,600 jobs were created last year by employers operating in the energy-efficiency, renewable-energy, clean-transportation, and greenhouse-gas management and accounting sectors -- an increase of 6.3 percent, according to the Clean Jobs Tennessee report. That's nearly triple the state's overall employment growth. Businesses told the report's authors they expect to fill an additional 2,500 positions by 2016.

2. TVA gets behind the Clean Power Plan

TVA is reviewing the more than 1,000 pages of new regulations released this month to regulate CO2 from existing power plants and a second rule that regulates emissions from new fossil plants, all part of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which calls for a 32 percent cut in greenhouse gases by American power plants by 2030, compared with 2005 emissions.  

"For our coal and gas fleet, this plan really won't have much impact at all," Brooks said. "Most of our decisions on which coal units to retire, etc., are already in place and being driven by a 2011 agreement between TVA and EPA. We have already reduced our carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels. It remains to be seen what the other impacts will be."

3. A new hotel is leading its brand, and possibly the state, in sustainability

The Knoxville location of Home2 Suites is unique among hotels in the Hilton chain and a sustainability leader in the Tennessee hospitality industry due to the investment in a full-roof solar array by property owner and Oak Ridge native Chandler Bhateja. Some other measures include recycling bins in every room and throughout the hotel's public areas, the use of recycled paper products whenever possible, low-flow faucets and energy-saving LED lighting with timers.

4. Sevier County is one step closer to zero waste in landfills

Sixty percent of all trash gathered in Sevier County, as well as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is recycled into compost. That's the highest recycle rate in Tennessee, and one of the highest nationwide, but two multimillion dollar projects on the horizon aim to get the county to 100 percent: new sorting equipment to remove recyclables from waste and a gasification system to convert waste into fuel.

2015 Green Achievers

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Congratulations to our 2015 Green Achievers! Their stories are featured in the May Business Journal and available at the links below.

Harrison Construction is putting 20,000 tons of recycled asphalt back on the road as part of its Western Avenue paving project. The company also keeps construction and materials out the landfill by recycling concrete, brick, and other demolition leftovers into base material for contractors, use in its own manufacturing or as landscaping material. As an added benefit, every bit of recycling means less rock that needs to be mined from the region's mountains.

See their story at Demolished buildings get new purpose as road material

Sunshine Industries provides jobs and services to Knox County adults with disabilities, but is also trying to better the community as a whole with its recycling programs. Now the agency is rolling out an e-cycling program with the additional benefit of certifying electronics as destroyed -- rather than resold -- so customers know their data is secure.

Read about the new effort at Social-service agency creates e-cycling advantage

Cool Sports knows running an ice rink in an East Tennessee summer takes a ton of power. It's reducing that need as much as possible by taking advantage of the season's abundant sunshine to power facilities. The company's solar array generates enough electricity to power 14 homes and helps the facility shave off costs. It also eliminates 222,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions among others.

Get the details at Solar power shaves off costs for ice rink, sports facility

La-Z-Boy knows you probably aren't thinking of the environment when you kick back in one of its recliners, but the company is working hard nonetheless to reuse and recycle as much as it can. It's been an ongoing effort. Last year the company recyled 93 percent of its materials. The facility marked Earth Day this year by achieving zero waste at its Dayton, Tenn. facility. 

Learn about the process at La-Z-Boy Tennessee reuses, recycles to avoid landfill

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The Knox County school board on Wednesday approved adding solar panels to 11 county schools.

"I think if this was all of our schools, I would be much more cautious, but we're talking about 10-12 percent of all of our schools to give something a try," said Karen Carson, school board members.

The panels are expected to save more than $3.8 million in energy costs, a figure that could increase over the next 30 years.

The schools that will receive new solar roof panels are: Hardin Valley Academy; the L&N STEM Academy; A.L. Lotts and Amherst elementary schools; Bearden, Powell, South-Doyle and West Valley middle schools; and Central, Karns and West high schools.

That state of Tennessee will now share costs for farmers here to earn the USDA organic certification

Certified organic producers can apply to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture for a 75 percent cost share up to a maximum of $750 to help defray costs related to receiving and maintaining organic certification, including inspection costs. Organic operations that have achieved certification since October 1, 2014 meet the time qualification to seek reimbursement, as do organic operations that become certified between now and September 30, 2015.

Organic certification typically costs small farm producers between $600 and $1,000 annually. Costs increase based on product and sales volume.

All 17 schools in the Anderson County school system have received upgrades as part of a $9.7 million project to save energy.

An open house celebrating the milestone will be  5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday at Briceville Elementary School.

The project included upgrades to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, electrical systems, new windows, energy efficient lights, water conservation measures, advanced energy management controls and new suspended ceiling systems.

The improvements will provide the school system with more than $620,000 in annual energy savings, which will more than pay for implementation, said Larry Foster, director of schools in a news release.

The energy saved is estimated to be equivalent to the power needs of more than 650 homes per year.

The project is part of a 15-year contract with Energy Systems Group, an energy service provider, approved last year.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Cortney Roark published on January 10, 2017 4:40 PM.

Grow Bioplastics named Sizzle TechStart's first incubator client was the previous entry in this blog.

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