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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.


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.

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Employees of a Kingsport glass making company are saying they have not been paid, with one employee saying some haven't been paid for weeks and even then some of the paychecks have bounced, according to a story by Nick Shepherd of the Kingsport Times News.

Heritage Glass in Kingsport is the only U.S. manufacturuer of solar panel glass.

The Tennessee Department of Labor reports four wage complaints from employees.


Japanese manufacturer Sharp Corp. will stop solar panel production in Tennessee and at a U.K. plant in Wales this year as it restructures its solar business, according to Tokyo-based reporter Chisaki Watanabe of Bloomberg.

A Sharp representative said output at the Memphis plant will stop by the end of March. The plant employs about 450 people, 300 of which are involved in the manufacture of solar panels.

The plant will continue making other electronics such as microwaves.

In 2010 Efficient Energy of Tennessee used panels from the Sharp plant to open the first 1 megawatt solar installation in the region at the solar farm on Andrew Johnson Highway in East Knox County.

Photo: Sharp's southeast Memphis factory, a fixture since 1978, makes electronics and solar panels and employs nearly 500 people. By Mark Weber, Commercial Appeal

When funding for the state's $70 million investment in the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative ended last summer, Genera Energy LLC -- created as part of the initiative by the University of Tennessee and the state -- was spun off as Genera Energy Inc. The new commercial company is focused on supplying biomass to biofuels producers.

At next week's meeting of the Technical Society of Knoxville, Kelly Tiller, Genera's president and CEO will discuss the biofuels industry in her presentation "From Crops to Fuels to Markets: Growing a Commercial Biofuels Industry in Tennessee."

For more information call Bob Scott at 690-0705 or go to

PlacedEquipment.jpgDespite announcing plant startup delays last year, Wacker Polysilicon continues to update the timetable for its Tennessee plant's construction.

Five structures measuring more than 200 feet tall are now upright and in place at Wacker Polysilicon's Charleston, Tenn. site. 

The equipment, which performs a distillation process to produce the polycrystalline silicon, was trucked to the site last year along I-75, the company says. It is taller than any other building in Bradley County, according to Mike Pare in a Times Free Press article.

"This is a very visible stride in our progress: the first major milestone of 2013.  We are excited to see this equipment now in its permanent place," said Dr. Martin Richtberg, vice president of engineering and head of the Wacker construction project.  

"Last year we saw the final phase of concrete pouring, the arrival of large core equipment, the beginning of steel erection and the start of interior work," added Dr. Richtberg.  "We are proud of these accomplishments, of our project; and we look forward to the work ahead of us this year."


Photo: This equipment was designed to perform specific types of distillation to produce a product more than 99.999999999 percent pure.  Credit Wacker Polysilicon North America LLC

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solar elephants.jpgThe Knoxville Zoo's African elephant habitat now sports a 50 kilowatt solar installation, courtesy of Lenoir City-based Wampler's Farm Sausage and Family Brands International. Above, a time lapse image of the finished solar installation at the Knoxville Zoo's elephant enclosure. Blue Sky Aerial Images, Michael Sexton

The Knoxville Zoo's African elephant habitat now sports a 50-kilowatt solar installation, courtesy of Lenoir City-based Wampler's Farm Sausage and Family Brands International.

The system, constructed by Knoxville company ARiES Energy, will produce energy for the zoo as part of TVA's Green Power Provider Program. The zoo will then receive a credit from KUB on its utility bill each month.

Zoo officials say they also plan to use the system to educate visitors about solar power. Plans include installing a video monitor inside the elephant barn viewing area showing how solar power is created and adding signs throughout the exhibit detailing the environmental and economic impact, said Tina Rolen of the zoo's marketing department.

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Nissan's new Smyrna site is the largest lithium-ion automotive battery plant in the U.S. 
Photo by Nissan

The first lithium-ion batteries made in Nissan's new Smyrna assembly plant are ready to power the 2013 LEAF.

While the new batteries were produced a few weeks ago, they've only now completed the required aging process enabling them to receive their first charge. 

The new battery plant is located adjacent to Nissan's existing vehicle assembly plant, which has been retooled to accommodate production of the Nissan LEAF. 

"The opening of this facility in Tennessee supports our goal of making zero-emissions mobility a reality through American jobs and American manufacturing," said Carlos Ghosn, president and chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Co. 

Production of the Nissan LEAF and the battery has added more than 300 jobs at the site. Nissan officials say operations of both the battery and car building plants could expand to 1,000 additional jobs in the future. The battery facility is capable of expanding to produce modules for up to 200,000 batteries annually. 

The plant was supported by a Department of Energy loan of up to $1.4 billion, and construction of the battery site and alterations of the vehicle manufacturing facility may eventually reach a $1.7 billion total investment.

By 2015, Nissan aims to have 85 percent of all Nissan and Infiniti products that are sold in the United States produced in North America.

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Hemlock Semiconductor is nearing the end of the first phase of of its plant in Clarksville, Tenn., according to company officials.

The company hopes to begin production next year.

The $1.2 billion plant will employ 500 full-time workers when completed and produce close to 12,000 tons of polycrystalline silicon per year initially.

However, this is almost certainly not the end of the project. The plant site is designed for a potential four construction phases, which could turn into a $5 billion investment over time.

Photo: An aerial view looking from the back side of Hemlock Semiconductor LLC from Tylertown Road. HSC will be ready to start production sometime next year. / THE LEAF-CHRONICLE/GREG WILLIAMSON
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This page contains a single entry by Cortney Roark published on January 10, 2017 4:40 PM.

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