Solar Farm Brings New Life to Abandoned Nuclear Power Plant Site

solar farm on nuclear power site
A new 1MW solar power farm sits on the site of the never operational Phipps Bend nuclear power plant. Credit: United Renewable Energy

The site of an unfinished nuclear power plant has been newly energized – with solar power.  Birdseye Renewable Energy recently partnered with United Renewable Energy to design and construct a solar farm bringing energy generation to Hawkins County, Tennessee.

Construction of the Phipps Bend Nuclear Power plant kicked off in 1978. Tucked in a bend of the Holston River near Surgoinsville, Tennessee, the project was expected to revitalize the area’s economy. The electricity it generated would reach the entire coverage area of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Just a few years into the project, energy demand and prices were falling. The partial nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island triggered increased citizen concerns along with increased costs to meet new regulatory requirements. The TVA Board of Directors ceased construction in 1981. The plant was never operational.

While an industrial park was developed nearby in the late 1980s, the plant was only used for safety training exercises – until now.

Today, almost 3,000 solar panels sit on four acres just outside the shadows of the eerie gray concrete structures that were abandoned mid-construction. Rows of panels sits atop driven posts that slowly rotate to follow the sun’s path across the sky and maximize the solar energy gathered. The energy is sold to Holston Electric as part of TVA’s Distributed Solar Solutions program. It then flows across eastern Tennessee, providing enough energy to meet the need of 100 average-sized homes.

The project made its way into national news in October 2016, when site manager Matt Mounie heard a dog barking in the abandoned plant. Upon investigation, he found a dog treading water at the bottom of a 30-foot hole. Mounie contacted local authorities who staged a rescue. After treatment and a search, the dog was reunited with his owners.

The project’s developer and owner is Birdseye Renewable Energy of Charlotte, North Carolina. Birdseye is a leading developer of large solar facilities throughout the southeast, with over 430MW greenfield projects operating including 34 projects at schools in eastern Tennessee. Construction was performed by United Renewable Energy of Alpharetta, Georgia.

“It has been a true pleasure working with TVA distributor Holston Electric, the Hawkins County Industrial Development Board and United Renewable Energy.  The team worked seamlessly to provide Hawkins County a notable landmark of innovation in the midst of the Phipps Bend Nuclear site.  We look forward to future collaborations with TVA.” said Brian Bednar, President of Birdseye Renewable Energy.

“We are proud to work with Birdseye on this exciting project to bring solar energy to east Tennessee. Due to its location, this project visibly demonstrates how clean, efficient solar energy matches other forms of power generation to meet our country’s growing energy needs,” said Keith Herbs, executive vice president of United Renewable Energy.

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This post was prepared by Solar Thermal Magazine staff.