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Massive solar project in Tennessee is all about Google

Skyhawk Solar could generate up to 100MW of energy to feed Google datacenters

A massive solar project is giving the Tennessee Valley Authority - and Google - a big boost of renewable energy.

Skyhawk Solar, a joint project between the TVA, Origis Energy and Excelsior Energy Capital, has begun construction in northwest Tennessee, and by the time it's done late this year, it will span 700 acres and comprise around 300,000 solar panels. 

Skyhawk's generating capacity will be massive. According to Origis, who will manage the plant after construction is complete, Skyhawk will have peak capacity of 125MW, which is a measurement of the maximum output of photovoltaic cells in direct current. At such a maximum, Skyhawk would deliver 100MW AC to the TVA grid, but such peak capacity may not reflect the actual production capabilities of Skyhawk.

Skyhawk was developed using funds from the TVA's Green Invest program, which provides cash to businesses looking to build utility-scale solar power plants in the TVA's operating area, which comprises the state of Tennessee, as well as parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. 

Once completed, Skyhawk will serve Google hyperscale datacenters in Clarksville, Tennessee and Jackson County, Alabama. Because solar facilities are relatively easy to construct and maintain, only 300 construction jobs will be created, and only eight to ten full-time operators and maintenance staff will be required after the facility is finished. 

Joahn Vanhee, chief commercial and procurement officer at Origis Energy, said that Skyhawk will still generate economic benefits locally. "The net economic benefits include $16.9 million in estimated direct local economic benefits during construction and $30 million estimated over the life of the project," Vanhee said.

Origis also claimed Skyhawk will save 100,500 kilograms of carbon emissions over coal power during the project's lifetime.

Along with economic benefits, Vanhee said Skyhawk will help Google use more clean energy, which Google's Global Head of Data Center Energy, Amanda Peterson Corio, said will help the search giant meet its 24/7 carbon-free energy goals. 

Google's current objective is to operate completely carbon-free by 2030. On a map of its carbon footprint across various states and countries, Google said it's using 68 percent carbon-free power in Tennessee and Alabama. 

As for the TVA, Skyhawk is its chance to further diversify away from fossil fuels, a journey it's been on for some time. 

Between 2015 and April 2021, the US Energy Information Administration said 53 percent of the power generated by the TVA came from renewables. Most of that comes from nuclear power, which accounts for 48 percent of the TVA's generation. The TVA's nuclear facility, Watts Bar, includes the only nuclear reactor to come online in the US this century. 

Eleven percent of the TVA's energy comes from its massive network of 29 dams and hydroelectric power stations, while the TVA's 14 solar sites together with its windmills only account for three percent of energy regeneration. As of 2019, the TVA's renewable investments have reduced its carbon emissions by 51 percent compared to numbers from 2005. 

According to the EIA, The TVA is the largest government-owned electricity provider in the US, with the ability to generate a peak of nearly 34,000 megawatts. If Skyhawk is able to deliver on its promises, it could add another 100 megawatts to the mix, all earmarked for Google. ®

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