Clear blue skies and golden sunlight greeted attendees of Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony of Jackson’s newest renewable energy source, Clearloop solar farm.
A start-up company developed by Clearloop CEO Laura Zapata, former Governor Phil Bredesen and renewable energy entrepreneur Bob Corney, the company set the goal of producing 1 million watts of solar energy on their Highway 70 property.
Thanks to the investments of numerous companies in the project, that goal is set to become a reality as an estimated 2300 solar panels are preparing to be installed.
The energy, which will be flowed into Jackson Energy Authority and dispersed throughout the city, will power 200 homes in Jackson for the next 40 years.
“We’re really excited,” said Zapata, who was smiling as she gestured to the massive field behind her. “We’re breaking ground on our very first solar project right here in Jackson, Tennessee…Jackson has really great sunny skies, it has flat land and it has a really welcoming community. People here have been really receptive to this idea that we can do these solar projects.”
The company, which functions similarly to a crowd-funding project, allows corporations to invest in the number of solar panels that would reverse the effects of their 2020 carbon footprint, therefore “closing the loop” on clean energy.
When previously reported by the Jackson Sun, Clearloop was closing in on their 1 million-watt goal thanks to an investment made by Vista Equity partners.
Following a surge in interest throughout the summer, Clearloop met their goal with the investments from all over the country, such as local musician Jason Isbell, children’s clothing company Hello Bello and New York author Stacy Clark, who wrote a children’s book on renewable energy.
“The purpose of my book is to show people that you don’t have to plunder the earth,” said Clark. “Much like why we’re here today.”
Kyle Spurgeon, President and CEO of the Jackson Chamber, is equally as excited about the possibilities presented by this company.
“This project today is more than just about Clearloop announcing a solar project here in Jackson,” he said. “It is about jobs. Because when we look at recruiting new industry, and helping existing industry grow in West Tennessee and Jackson, being able to talk about renewable energy assets is something we have got to be able to say ‘Yes, we can help you with that.’
“It’s just like fiber connectivity was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It became something that, at that time, was nice to have, but then was necessary. Renewable energy is something that is now necessary to recruit new industry and help existing industry grow.”
Echoing Spurgeon’s statement—though perhaps less articulately—were a herd of sheep roaming behind him on Clearloop’s property. Although a seemingly random addition to the event, the livestock are an integral part of the clean energy process—instead of hiring mowers to tend the property, and therefore using gas, Clearloop works with local farmers to allow sheep and goat herds to graze and maintain the land.
“The sheep are here to help us take care of our land,” Zapata said. “It’s a part of a regenerative energy program Silicon Ranch spearheaded. The idea is to work with local farmers and ranchers to bring their animals out here and tend to the land…We’re really excited to do that and use less chemicals to take care of this land.”
Trey Lawrence, owner of Tall Oak Farm and Land Management, is excited about the partnership.
“We do this grazing for Silicon Ranch, and got through to Clearloop through that partnership,” he said. “We have to take care of everything—not bust anything up, not pull a wire loose. That’s why sheep are great for it. They don’t run into anything, and they don’t tear anything up.”
According to Lawrence, who’s farm has about 200 sheep, Clearloop’s property will require a rotation of about 40 sheep to maintain the grass.
Prior to the deployment of these fuzzy sentient lawn-mowers, however, the solar farm will undergo a fast construction, and be ready to power Jackson homes by July 2022.
“In 2062, when you look at this field, it will still be generating clean energy,” Zapata said proudly. “We’re really excited about the possibilities, and the fact that what we’re doing today will be generating clean energy for an entire generation.”
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