An environmental resource for East Tennessee Businesses

GoGreenET Achievers nominations open

We're looking to tell the stories of companies that have made significant progress in recycling/waste reduction, energy efficiency, renewable energy and community outreach, or in another area we may not have even considered.


We're looking for a specific project, process change or initiative in each category that can be used as a model for other organizations.

The nomination form can be found here. The deadline to submit a nomination is March 20. 

Winners will be featured in the Greater Knoxville Business Journal's May issue.

 

Grow Bioplastics named Sizzle TechStart's first incubator client

Grow Bioplastics was named in December Sizzle TechStart's first agricultural technology client.

Sizzle TechStart is a small business incubator formed through a collaboration between the Roane Alliance, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Proton Power and the Roane Chamber that provide business startups space and service in the Roane Regional Business and Technology Park, according to a news release.

Grow Bioplastics, founded by Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, developed a biodegradable plastic made out of biomass and forestry waste to protect crops while they grow. It can be used in place of the oil-based plastic farmers typically use that must be removed at the end of the season. 

More than 40 people including Roane County Executive Ron Woody, State Senator Ken Yager, State Representative Kent Calfee, Chamber Board Chair Marilyn Calfee gathered at Sizzle TechSmart to celebrate the addition last week.

The group also celebrated a grant worth approximately $75,000 to the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center from the United States Department of Agriculture and Tennessee Department of Agriculture. 

"There are a lot of young people out here with some great innovative ideas about agriculture," Bobby Goode, USDA Rural Development State Director for Tennessee, said in a release. "To be able to help those people bring those ideas into a business model and carry them out, and for rural Tennessee to benefit from that, is a great opportunity for us ... we're proud to be a part of this."

Wade Creswell, president and CEO of the Roane Alliance, said the Alliance is all about partnerships, and they chose to partner together to create Sizzle TechStart to fill a need in the area.

"We're watching this take shape right before our eyes," Creswell said. "There is incredible potential to do something here that's not being done anywhere else because of the resources that exist (in Roane county).

"The big winner in all this is going to be the businesses that are going to be able to succeed out of this building."

Knoxville startup company Grow Bioplastics was selected as one of four finalists in the 2017 Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge for its biodegradable plastics made out of lignin to eliminate oil-based plastics for farmers, home gardeners and greenhouse and nursery managers.  

The company was awarded $15,000 for being selected and will compete at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 98th Annual Convention & IDEAg trade show in Phoenix in January.

The challenge judges looked at each business owner's idea, potential impact that that idea on the agriculture industry across the nation, the traction the company had and the team the company put together, Tony Bova, co-founder of Grow Bioplastics, said.

Grow Bioplastics' product would help farmers save money and reduce waste sent to landfills, Bova said.

"In the farming industry, especially crop growers, a lot of them use plastic films, mulch films, to lay over their field to increase the amount that can grow," Bova said. "Now they have to be ripped off the field and sent to the landfill at the end of the season. It costs at least $100 an acre or more, so our technology would allow them to buy a biodegradable plastic at the same price, and then they can plow the plastic into the field to break down naturally."

The company will pitch its product to a panel of judges and attendees at the final conference Jan. 8 in competition for the Rural Entrepreneur of the Year award and $15,000, which Grow Bioplastics would use to create prototypes of its product for farmers to test. 

Pioneer Heating and Air doubles generated solar energy

Pioneer Heating & Air expanded the solar PV system at its Mill Branch Lane facility. The company has increased its solar energy system to 47.48 kW, effectively doubling the solar energy it generates.  The system was commissioned and has been producing power since Sept. 8, 2016. 

 With the combination of solar radiation exposure and high quality modules, the addition of the 74 module system is estimated to produce 28,491 kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy annually.  The system designer and installer, Green Earth Solar, LLC estimates that the system will reduce emissions by 30 lbs. of nitrogen oxides, 70 lbs. of sulfur dioxide and 41,603 lbs. of carbon dioxide each year.  Through TVA's Green Power Provider Program, the grid tied solar PV system will also generate income every month to help offset the electricity bill for Pioneer Heating & Air.

Pioneer panels.jpg

Small businesses in the clean-energy sector again will have access to the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory resources with use of the DOE Small Business Vouchers Pilot. The voucher program will allow businesses to access expertise and technological resources that might not otherwise be available in order to bring innovative clean energy products to market.

The pilot is part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's National Laboratory Impact Initiative portfolio, which supports the relationship between the EERE and the national laboratory enterprise and works to increase the industrial impact of DOE national labs on the U.S. clean energy sector. 

Small businesses with little to no experience with DOE labs are encouraged to submit requests, as EERE hopes to increase the number of new small businesses participating in the pilot. The pilot started in fall 2015 and launched in second round of funding spring 2016. During the first two rounds, 76 small businesses from 25 states were awarded almost $15 million in vouchers. 

Vouchers range from $50,000 to $300,000 per small business to be used to perform collaborative research or to access lab instrumentation or facilities. Businesses interested in SBV funding must be U.S.-based and U.S.-owned with no more than 500 full time employees worldwide. 

A total of $12 million is available for vouchers in the third round, as well as the upcoming fourth round of funding. To check company eligibility or submit a request, visit SBV.org. The deadline to apply is Nov. 10, and selected companies must provide a 20 percent in-kind cost share for completing voucher work. 

Bioenergy Day to educate students on rise of biofueled world

Students of all ages will soon have a little more bioenergy knowledge, as the fourth annual Bioenergy Day will present opportunities to learn about the rise of a biofueled world.

Hosted by the University of Tennessee, in partnership with Oak Ridge national Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bioenergy Day will feautre a 3-D printer and examples of 3-D printed objects, including a 3-D printed table made of renewable bamboo produced by ORNL and 3-D printed giveaways.

There will also be opportunities to speak to bioenergy experts in the rapidly expanding field, as well as ORNL internship opportunities available for high school and college students.

National Bioenergy Day celebrates the importance of bioenergy, which is the use of agricultural waste and forestry byproducts to generate heat and energy. There will be several showcases throughout the United States to display bioenergy facilities and the bioenergy supply chain.

Bioenergy is also responsible for thousands of jobs that work to keep American forests healthy and utilize organic byproducts like forest trimmings, industry byproducts and agricultural residuals. The U.S. gets 2.5 percent of its energy from bioenergy, according to the National Bioenergy Day website.

The free event will feature many contributors, including the Creative Discovery Museum of Chattanooga, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Genera Energy Inc. and the U.S. Forest Service.

The event will be held Oct. 19 from 3-5 p.m. at the UT Arboretum Auditorium in Oak Ridge.

News Sentinel Staff contributed to this post.

More contractors needed for Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover

By: Ed Marcum 

The Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover program, launched to help weatherize the homes of low-income families, has been a boon to contractors.

John Underwood, whose company Castles of Choice LLC does subcontract work on the homes for ABC Weatherization, said KEEM was an opportunity that came along at just the right time.

"We were a young company and ABC got us involved in the program," he said. "It really helped us get going," he said.

Part of the idea behind the program is to help minority-, women-owned and other small businesses, and organizers want to get more of them involved, said Erin Gill, director of the city's Office of Sustainability. To accomplish this, a workshop will be held at 10 a.m. on Oct. 21 at the Knoxville Area Urban League headquarters at 1514 E. Fifth Ave.

There will be a presentation to explain the program, and a chance to talk with representatives and learn how to get involved, Gill said. There is a bit of urgency because the program is running out of time and money, and organizers want to get as many homes weatherized and as many contractors involved as possible, she said.

"The program is in its final year, so we want to make sure the doors are wide open for people who want to participate," Gill said.

The program kicked off in August 2015, funded by a $15 million grant awarded by the Tennessee Valley Authority to the city, the Community Action Committee, Knoxville Utilities Board, and the Alliance to Save Energy. CAC administers the program.

"Generally, CAC goes into low-income homes that have electric heat, and if the family is income eligible and meets other qualifications, CAC evaluates the home and does a full audit to find out what the home needs in terms of energy efficiency," Gill said.

CAC makes a list of improvements needed and hires a contractor to do the work. This usually involves sealing doors and windows, replacing or repairing HVAC units and water heaters, and/or installing insulation and repairing duct work.

However, a stipulation of the TVA grant is that all the $15 million should be spent by September 2017.

"We are ramped up and will continue at full speed until we are out of money," Gill said.

There still is much to be done, she said. The program aims to weatherize 1,278 homes and has done 725 so far. To quicken the pace, more contractors are needed, Gill said. Only nine general contractors are involved, she said. One of those is ABC Weatherization.

Jim Beardsworth, co-owner of the company, said it has about 26 subcontractors, representing about 40 or 50 people, that work on KEEM projects.

Beardsworth said that a subcontractor must be trained and accepted as a TVA contractor, and he believes that probably inhibits some contractors from trying to get KEEM work. The workshop will provide information and help guide subcontractors through the process, he said.

The Smarter Cities Partnership, a coalition of 20 organizations looking to make homes in Knoxville's core more energy efficient, is looking for funding sources to continue KEEM after the current funds run out, Gill said.

So far, the program has had an impressive impact, Gill said. It has resulted in $6 million being invested into the community, including $4.5 million to small businesses.

The weatherization jobs that have been completed thus far have resulted in an estimated 3.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity saved, enough to power about 225 average homes, she said. The energy savings have prevented an estimated 2,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being produced, which is the equivalent of taking 549 cars off the road.

For more information on KEEM or the workshop, call 865-244-3080 or visitwww.keemteam.com.

Oak Ridge advisory board appoints nine members

Nine local residents will have the chance to provide input this fall to the U.S. Department of Energy on its Oak Ridge Reservation cleanup mission.

The Oak Ridge Site Specific Advisory Board appointed the new members, giving the group a total of 21 members and two non-voting student representatives.The DOE's Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management briefs the board periodically on its top cleanup projects. The federally chartered citizen's panel then discusses each project and provides the DOE with community perspectives through formal recommendations.

The nine new members of the advisory board are all residents of Oak Ridge, Knoxville an the surrounding areas. The members are:

Kathryn Bales, senior nuclear engineering student at the University of Tennessee

Christopher Beatty, quality assurance engineer with Innovative Design Inc.

Rosario Gonzalez, cafateria manager at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Oak Ridge

Eddie Holden, retired transportation logistics manager who worked with OREM for 10 years and Yellow Freight for 31 years

Deni Sobek, science teacher at Oak Ridge High School

Fred Swindler, former vice president and current consultant in regulatory affairs for IsoRay Medical Inc.

Venita Thomas, occupational safety and health safety specialist with Alliant Corp.

Rudy Weigel, retired industrial hygienist, bioenvironmental engineer, environmental scientist and hazardous waste program coordinator

Phil Yager, Anderson County Commissioner for District 8 in Oak Ridge.

 

Flexibility helps TVA keep prices down

By: Mamie Kuykendall

Customers of the Tennessee Valley Authority are paying lower rates than two-thirds of the country's energy consumers, and experts cite the agency's unusual structure as a major factor for the low costs.

"We are a unique bird, a federal corporation, which means the TVA board has the ability to set our rates without going to a public commission like others have to," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said. "They have to propose (changes) and make their case, while our board has the ability to set rates. That's the fundamental difference."

At 9 cents per kilowatt hour, TVA prices rank in the lower third of the top 100 utility retail rates in the country. Its industrial rates are lower than 85 percent of other agencies. This is partly because the TVA sets rates as low as possible to cover costs, according to Brooks, while investor-run utilities have to show profits for shareholders.

"We are not a profit-based company," Brooks said. "Any extra is returned back into our system. We don't have shareholders."

TVA's price increases have remained equal to 1.5 percent of retail rates each year for the past three, according to its website. This increase, in line with the cost of inflation, was made possible by the reduction of $600 million in operating costs over the same time span.

Generating sources and fuel costs are two factors primarily responsible for electricity price fluctuations, according to the website, and the agency generates electricity through a variety of means -- such as coal, natural gas and hydro -- to manage the price changes.

The agency uses different resources to meet fluctuating energy demands. For example, combustion turbine natural gas plants are used when loads are high, while nuclear and hydro power plants, which have the lowest costs, can be used full-time.

Electricity generation prices can be impacted by outside factors such as fuel costs and droughts, something that the diverse portfolio is able to offset. If there is not enough water to use hydro, coal can be substituted. These options allow the TVA to keep costs low, according to its website.

The agency plans to continue cost-control efforts in the years to come. An investment of $2 million to $3 million will be made over the next three years to maintain clean, safe energy, without an operating budget increase, according to the site.

The low rates are bringing billions of dollars to the Tennessee Valley, according to the TVA. In the first part of this fiscal year, $6.5 billion in investments were brought to the area, and more than 53,000 jobs were brought or retained.

Both businesses and individuals maintain a high level of interest in green living and energy conservation, according to Brooks.

The TVA, which provides electricity to seven states, is offering incentives in exchange for energy-efficient utility upgrades through its EnergyRight Solutions program. Founded in 2008, the program offers up to 10 cents per kilowatt hour saved for pre-approved projects, such as lighting, HVAC, and door and window upgrades, according to the TVA website.

In the Northeast region, businesses and industries collectively save about 30 million kilowatt-hours each year through the program, according to Tom Irwin, program manager for the Northeast region. These figures do not include residential savings.

"We've had a tremendous response to the program," Brooks said. "Part of the reason is that there is a demand for reducing energy bills and saving energy. We think that's a good thing."

Energy efficiency is important to the TVA, because it helps to avoid a heavy peak demand period, which would force the agency to build more power plants.

"The less energy needed, the less we have to pay for fuel to run our plants," Brooks said. "We've seen tremendous interest and response for homes, businesses and corporations all around the valley to help companies reduce their consumptions."

As a result, the TVA boasts one of the smallest carbon footprints of all Southeastern utilities, according to the website, and close to 55 percent of its generating sources are carbon free. The agency has invested around $6 billion in equipment for emission control, and it expects to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent in the next four years.

Aries Energy powers way into community solar

Aries Energy, a Knoxville-based company founded in 2011 to deliver simple, profitable and responsible renewable energy solutions, has jumped head first into community solar, one of the hottest topics in renewable energy.

Community solar is a large-scale system that allows solar energy to be deployed through a utility.

"The very nature of the business structure of the project is a win for everybody," Aries president Harvey Abouelata said. "If it goes through a utility, the utility's not left out of the picture."

A utility has power distribution, management expertise and could perform the ongoing operational maintenance, said Abouelata. Public partners then could be brought into the business structure to take advantage of tax credits, incentives and depreciation.

"You have the scale of the community, the tax credits and incentives because you have a private partner in there, so that's lowering the costs, and then you have the community," Abouelata said. "If I'm an individual that's renting, and I want to participate in clean energy, how do I do it? I can subscribe to this community solar project that's controlled by the utilities and I can put my money where my mouth is.

"It's really exciting, because whatever level I want to participate in ... I can be an individual and subscribe to essentially one panel, or I can be a corporation and subscribe to half a megawatt. But, I don't have to worry about people walking on my roof or construction or maintenance. That's all done by the utility. Again, it's a win for everybody."

According to Abouelata, that's why community solar is a popular topic.

"We joined the South Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance, and one of the first meetings we went to, the topic was community solar," he said. "I just came from one of the subcommittee meetings that (Nashville) mayor (Megan) Barry put together. The topic? Community solar. Every time we turn around.

"There was a project in Spartanburg, S.C., that was largely surrounded by community solar that Harold Mitchell put together. It's one of those things you're going to see more and more."

Aries is putting the finishing touches on a 1.37-megawatt community solar project for Appalachian Electric Co-op in New Market. The company in August broke ground on Tennessee's first utility-scale community solar installation, which will serve 35,000 members in the electric cooperative.

The Tennessee Valley Authority provided a grant for the AEC project, and costs will be fully funded through revenue generated via power purchase agreement with TVA.

"(TVA provides) low cost and reliable power," Abouelata said. "We're very fortunate, because that's a huge part of economic development for Tennessee. Tennessee is on the map because of those partnerships with TVA. And TVA getting behind renewable energy has been huge in the economic development in Tennessee. ...

"Bringing the two together, utilities and renewable energy, has been brilliant, because millions of dollars have come into our state and it has been an economic boom because they have supported solar."

Aries made news in September when it announced a working agreement with SMS Energy Group of North Carolina to expand its large-scale solar projects in the Southeast. The venture will allow both companies to take advantage of the other's strengths.

"SMS Energy is a company that has a long history with utilities," Abouelata said. "They've got tons of experience over there. We've got tons of experience on the solar side of it. We're going to hit North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee very hard with this working relationship, and take advantage of each other's skills. That's pretty exciting. That puts us into a whole different world, because now we have that utility, high-voltage experience mixed with (our experience).

"We've been working with them on bids and sharing each other's knowledge base. It makes us both stronger, so we're excited about that."

SMS Energy Group also has operations in South Carolina. Aries is evaluating the Aiken, Columbia, Greeneville and Spartanburg markets and soon will open an office in South Carolina. The office will initially be home to one full-time salesperson, but the company expects to hire several more employees there by the end of 2017.

Jonathan Hamilton, who joined Aries earlier this year as a customer service manager, will lead the Southeast expansion.

Abouelata said that the time was right for Aries to develop a working agreement with SMS.

"The growth idea, one of the things for us and SMS getting together, is we realize that growth is going to be in the utility side," he said. "They realize they're getting more customers asking for solar, so they needed a solar partner. We just came together. The timing was right. It was perfect."

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Cortney Roark published on January 10, 2017 4:40 PM.

Grow Bioplastics named Sizzle TechStart's first incubator client was the previous entry in this blog.

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