How working with the right partners, solar projects can be powerful economic development opportunities to benefit our hometowns
By: Kyle Spurgeon, President and CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber
A significant challenge facing the renewable energy industry is the reluctance in many communities to greenlight the necessary infrastructure. The reasons for this hesitation are varied, with a common concern being the potential impact on local economies and private property values. Particularly in suburban and rural areas, resistance to green energy projects like solar farms has escalated in both frequency and intensity. Despite these projects often bringing new jobs and tax boosts to their communities, many remain unconvinced. Even when research has indicated that these projects have contributed over $660 million to federal, state, and local governments and created more than 12,000 construction jobs and over 1,700 operations and maintenance jobs, there are still those who fear that a “solar farm” could deter future investment.
Anxiety about changing local economies is understandable, particularly in regions like the Southeast, where recent data has revealed significant shifts. From 2003 to 2011, Tennessee saw $34 billion in new investments and the creation of more than 200,000 well-paid job opportunities. Yet change can breed anxiety, and some special interest groups have exploited this, spreading misinformation about new technology and causing baseless alarm about potential declines in property values.
Those of us in who work in economic development and have worked with responsible members of the renewable energy industry know that these projects can bring long-term economic benefits, such as those stemming from the $270 billion worth of tax incentives for renewable energy project construction under the Inflation Reduction Act. However, this knowledge is moot without the opportunity to prove it. The growing skepticism, combined with some unfortunate instances of solar industry players abandoning contracted projects or failing to keep promises, presents a significant barrier to solar growth, especially in the Southeast.
This is why it’s crucial for those hoping to bring green energy to Southeastern communities to meet their concerns with a comprehensive understanding of each individual community and its needs—and to consistently engage with them, proving that we’re in it for the long haul. Trust isn’t built in a day—it requires sustained efforts, ongoing dialogues, and fulfilling our promises, every time. We must demonstrate, time and time again, our commitment to regenerative land practices, economic benefits, and the overall wellbeing of the communities we serve.
The economic growth in the Southeast has served as inspiration for this holistic approach to renewable energy projects. The team behind Tennessee’s growth—Matt Kisber, Reagan Farr, and Governor Phil Bredesen—founded Silicon Ranch Corporation with the goal of bringing solar energy to Southeastern communities. By 2025, Silicon Ranch plans to invest $5 billion and create nearly 9,000 jobs across Georgia, the Tennessee Valley, and Kentucky.
My hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, has benefitted from Silicon Ranch’s investments through the McKellar Solar Farm and its subsidiary, Clearloop’s Jackson Solar Farm. These projects offer more than just reliable, cost-effective energy or a new source of tax revenue.
Between these two projects, Silicon Ranch has invested over $11.3 million in our community and created more than 350 jobs. As a landowner, the company will pay over $11.8 million in taxes over the lifetime of the project.
When we’re recruiting new industries or working with existing ones, a common query is how we can help them meet their renewable energy goals. For us in Jackson, the answer is now simple—we point to the two projects developed by Silicon Ranch.
Those who voice concerns about solar projects often do so out of deep love for their homes. We can respect this love by delivering projects that not only counteract misinformation about renewable energy but also visibly improve the places they care for. When handled with a long-term perspective, these projects can bring extensive benefits that communities can choose to pursue based on their specific priorities.
A part of this long-term approach involves continuously engaging with the community and reinforcing the societal benefits that these projects can bring. From significant new tax revenues to the creation of new jobs, renewable energy projects like these provide much more than just energy—they offer the potential for sustainable development and growth.
For example, in 2022, solar panel manufacturer First Solar announced plans to create nearly 1,000 jobs through domestic manufacturing, and tech giant Meta revealed plans for data centers in Georgia powered by 100% renewable energy. Such initiatives signal a nationwide ecosystem being built around solar energy, and communities can decide how to best leverage these developments.
Yet, even for communities that prefer to remain small, the additional tax revenue can be used to improve roads and schools, without requiring outside involvement. Community members can decide how to use the resources provided by renewable energy projects and what role these new taxpayers will play in their community.
It can be frustrating to witness the spread of misinformation about green energy projects’ impact on local economies. It’s disheartening to see fear about property values halt the progress of these economically beneficial projects. However, it’s important not to dismiss these fears but instead continually engage with the community, ensuring our approach considers each community’s unique needs.
Solar projects are assets that can improve local economies and attract companies and families looking to relocate or open new facilities. By continuing to engage with our communities and demonstrate our long-term commitment, we can show that these places are forward-thinking and that companies requiring access to renewable energy can locate and thrive here.