Shelby County prepares to switch to solar power for two buildings

Nearly 75% of Shelby County government’s greenhouse gas emissions originate from its buildings, but Mayor Lee Harris’ administration is planning on changing that figure with two new solar arrays.

The $589,000 project will soon provide 216 kilowatts of power to two government buildings located near Shelby Farms Park: Code Enforcement and Information Technology Services. The solar panels are adjacent to the buildings, and installation is expected to wrap up by the end of February.

Harris shared an update on the project during a Monday, Jan. 30, press conference, about six months after Shelby County commissioned local infrastructure solutions company PATH to design and install the solar arrays with its subcontractor, LightEdison.

The Memphis Area Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 70% by 2050, outlined plans to pursue renewable energy generation at government facilities.

“These two arrays will produce 100% of the energy for these two buildings,” said John Zeanah, Shelby County’s director of planning and development.

When the solar arrays generate a surplus, the county will sell power back to the grid through an agreement with Memphis Light, Gas and Water and its power provider, the Tennessee Valley Authority. In instances of a deficit, the grid will supplement the two buildings’ power supplies.

Zeanah said the county expects savings in excess of $600,000, “meaning that these are not only net-zero in terms of energy consumption and emissions, but it means that we’ll be saving money over time.”

A rebate through the Inflation Reduction Act will also shave about 30% off the half-million-dollar price tag for the arrays, as well.

The county selected the two buildings in part because they are adjacent to Shelby Farms Park and the project will be visible to park visitors, Zeanah said.

Harris said the arrays will also increase the buildings’ resiliency.

“We know that, from time to time, we have storms and other incidents around our community,” Harris said. “So, it’s really critically important to have other ways to keep our system going — particularly our (Information Technology Services).”

Instead of relying on a two-tiered approach — the power grid and back-up generators — chief information officer Sandra Perry said solar energy provides additional stability for the county’s Information Technology Services data center, which communications specialist Kelly Roberts called “the heart of the county’s technology environment.”

Other county-owned solar arrays are at Shelby Farms Park and Agricenter International, and Harris said the county will “keep pushing to make sure that we are reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and doing what we can at the local level to respond to the ravages of climate change.”

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