TAEBC guest column: Transportation electrification can recharge Tennessee’s economy

(Originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel

By Cortney Piper, Executive Director of TAEBC

Tennessee unemployment lingers close to 10% as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to chew through livelihoods across the state. Likewise, millions of Americans are unemployed. The state has an opportunity in this economic downturn, however, to add jobs and make the state a leader in the advanced energy economy for transportation.

The energy sector, specifically transportation electrification, is the solution that Tennesseans should pursue. It would have statewide impact, and with the potential backing of federal funding, has the potential to launch the state into a new phase of manufacturing and job creation.

Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council supports stimulus proposal

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council recently signed on to the Transportation Electrification Partnership’s $150 billion federal stimulus proposal. The coalition of 50 cleantech organizations from 15 states recently sent a letter to Congress, requesting multi-billion-dollar federal investment in transportation electrification. That investment would create 2.3 million high-quality, advanced energy jobs across the country. The proposal’s recommended actions include:

  • $25 billion investment in building and adopting electric and zero-emissions vehicles along with supply-chain development (producing domestic lithium for batteries, etc.);
  •  $85 billion for electric vehicle charging and related infrastructure;
  • $25 billion for zero-emissions public transit, active transit and safe streets;
  • $12.5 billion for workforce development, safety standards and job training; and
  •   $2.5 billion in innovation ecosystems for cleantech startups and related small businesses, prioritizing those created by underrepresented founders.

This electrification proposal isn’t just about putting electric vehicles on the street. It’s about creating manufacturing jobs, as $25 billion would boost the electric vehicle supply chain. Facilities such as Denso in Maryville have become regional leaders in employment because of their role in the automotive supply chain.

A boost for community and technical colleges

Of the $150 billion in the proposal, $12.5 billion is dedicated to workforce development and job training. Think of the expansion that could provide for community and technical colleges across the state as we build a workforce of smart people with the technical know-how to remain competitive for new potential employers. Another $2.5 billion would go toward fostering an advanced-energy entrepreneurial ecosystem. That’s money directly going to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Transportation electrification falls under the advanced energy sector – anything making energy cleaner, safer, more secure or more efficient. At our core, TAEBC champions advanced energy as a job creation and economic development strategy. In our 2018 Tennessee Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report, we found that advanced energy contributes $39.7 billion to state gross domestic product and employs nearly 360,000 Tennesseans.

It’s simple: The advanced energy sector creates high-quality jobs, fuels growth for existing businesses and attracts new corporate investment in the state. It’s already happening. Volkswagen is opening a new $800 million electric vehicle production site. Facebook has a new $800 million data center near Nashville that will be powered by two new solar energy projects. Advanced energy will continue to recharge our economy and accelerate growth during this challenging time.

Tennessee is uniquely positioned to capitalize on transportation electrification thanks to the hard work of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and previous governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam, who diligently put our current advanced energy infrastructure and assets in place. Just last year, Bob Rolfe, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner, reinforced our state’s goal of becoming the top electric vehicle producer in the country.

The state is ready to lead the country in transportation electrification. In fact, work in electrification is a key part of Tennessee’s history in America. In 1933, the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority brought jobs and helped Tennesseans pull through the worst of the Great Depression. Today, the transportation electrification efforts outlined in this proposal could and should be used as job creation and economic development opportunities to help us rise out of our current crisis.

TAEBC founding board member, Dan Hurst of Strata-G, sells company to employees

Dan Hurst, CEO and Founder of Knoxville-based Strata-G, has sold his company to two of his longtime vice presidents. Elliott Barnett will assume the position of CEO, and John Patterson will serve as president. Strata-G is a valued member of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council, while Hurst is a founding board member.

“These guys that have been with us 15 years are natural leaders, they know our business, they’ve built and are committed to our culture,” Hurst told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “We just had to figure out the right financial mechanism and details of business to make it work, and we did. I think we’ve done it in a way that we’re proud of each other for and thankful a lot for.”

Hurst founded the small business with senior engineer Darrell Daugherty in 2002. The engineering firm now has 250 employees and is ranked as the largest veteran-owned business in East Tennessee by the Knoxville News Sentinel‘s Book of Lists. Last year, Strata-G was named the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Small Business of the Year

This sale has been a couple years in the making and will allow Hurst to focus most of his time on long-term strategy and outreach, while Daugherty will still serve as lead engineer until a new successor is appointed. 

“Succession is a fun word,” Hurst said. “We’re all succeeding together, and we’re doing it by them not kicking us over the hill; that’s in our benefit and theirs. The fact that we’ve got a path that lets all that ‘juice’ stay in the company, I think, is useful.”

TAEBC awarded Hurst the annual Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award during the Annual Meeting on March 5, 2020, at Schneider Electric’s Nashville Hub. The Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award honors exemplary leadership and success in championing, connecting, and strengthening Tennessee’s advanced energy economy.

“As a founding board member of TAEBC, Dan Hurst embodies the qualities of a servant leader,” said Cortney Piper, Executive Director of TAEBC. “His dedication and commitment to building a new organization that represents an entire industry that makes Tennessee a better state in which to live, work and play is truly admirable. That same vision and devotion have enabled Dan to lead and grow a successful business in East Tennessee that embraces energy innovation, environmental stewardship and sustainability.”

To learn more about Strata-G and its commitment to pursuing advanced energy projects that improve Tennessee’s communities, contribute to the state’s advanced energy economy, and ensure the wellbeing of Tennesseans, click here.

TAEBC, LACI webinar highlights transportation electrification as a job creation and economic development opportunity

On August 12, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council hosted a webinar featuring the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). During the event, panelists discussed the status of a $150 billion federal stimulus proposal to strengthen our nation’s transportation infrastructure and what it could mean for Tennessee.

webinar screenshotAlongside 50 other cleantech companies, organizations and government entities, TAEBC signed on to this proposal in July to once again look to the advanced energy sector for economic recovery. The webinar highlighted what this kind of investment could mean for Tennessee as state leaders eye Tennessee becoming the top spot for the country’s EV supply chain and implement statewide electrification plans.

Featured speakers included Michael Swords, VP of Government Affairs & International Relations at LACI; Michelle Kinman, Director of Transportation at LACI; and Cortney Piper, TAEBC’s Executive Director. Piper opened the webinar, telling attendees that the proposal aligns with TAEBC’s belief that transportation electrification can be used as a job creation and economic development opportunity.

Swords and Kincman spoke about LACI’s commitment to “building an inclusive green economy” and discussed the recommended actions included in the proposal. These recommendations include:

  • $25 billion for zero emissions vehicle manufacturing, assembly and adoption
  • $85 billion for zero emissions infrastructure investment
  • $25 billion for zero emissions public and active transit
  • $12.5 billion for workforce development and job training
  • $2.5 billion for innovation ecosystem, cleantech startups and related small businesses

webinar screenshot

Kinman said the proposal has gained significant traction over the past few months and called it a “nationwide effort” to ensure the country is “putting Americans back to work in ways that will advance the clean energy goals.” 

Regarding next steps, Swords said that LACI is working closely with organizations in Washington D.C. and having nearly daily conversations with legislators or their staff to gain traction on the recommended actions. 

“There is growing bipartisan support for some of the ideas we have outlined in the proposal,” Swords said. “We’re confident that we’re going to get some movement on some of the items.” 

Loved the webinar and want to view the presentation again? Download it here.

TVA now accepting proposals for 200MW of renewable energy

TVA is now accepting proposals to develop 200 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy that can be brought online by the end of 2023. The deadline for proposal submissions is April 24. 

According to the Request for Proposal, the utility is interested in procuring up to 200 MW of new stand-alone renewable energy resources or renewable energy plus battery energy storage systems, including all the associated environmental attributes. 

TVA procured more than 1,300 MW on behalf of customers through similar requests for proposals in 2018 and 2019. According to the utility, large-scale solar costs 80 percent less than private-scale solar and delivers the best value for renewable energy across TVA’s seven-state service territory.

Recently, the TVA Board of Directors approved six flexibility principles in its February meeting that may grant local power companies the ability to buy or generate power on their own. Previously, TVA sought public input on the potential environmental impacts of a 150-MW solar project in Lincoln County, Tennessee. The power provider entered into an agreement with Elora Solar, LLC to purchase power generated by the proposed solar facility.

TAEBC champions advanced energy as a job creation and economic development strategy in the state. This move allows TVA to provide more clean, reliable energy for their customers.

The utility provider will announce the selected proposals in fall 2020. To review TVA’s RFP and submit bids, visit this link

TAEBC Annual Meeting 2020 highlights transportation electrification initiatives, advanced energy leadership

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) held another successful Annual Meeting at Schneider Electric’s Nashville Hub earlier this month.

TNECD Commissioner and TDEC Commissioner Featured speakers included Commissioner Bob Rolfe of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) and Commissioner David Salyers of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), who spoke about electric vehicles (EV) and their role in Tennessee’s advanced energy economy.

The event kicked off with TAEBC awarding Dan Hurst, CEO and founder of Strata-G, with the second-ever Thomas B. Ballard Advanced Energy Leadership Award, which honors exemplary leadership and success in championing, connecting, and strengthening Tennessee’s advanced energy economy. Last year, the inaugural award went to Ballard himself.  

“As a founding board member of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council, Dan Hurst embodies the qualities of a servant leader,” said Cortney Piper, Executive Director and Vice President of TAEBC. “His dedication and commitment to building a new organization that represents an entire industry that makes Tennessee a better state in which to live, work and play is truly admirable. That same vision and devotion have enabled Dan to lead and grow a successful business in East Tennessee that embraces energy innovation, environmental stewardship and sustainability.”

Schneider Electric’s Vice President of Power Products, Emily Heitman, welcomed TAEBC to Schneider Electric’s Nashville Hub and reinforced the company’s commitment to doing business in Tennessee. Her presentation was followed by Piper, who outlined TAEBC’S top achievements in 2019 and emphasized the organization’s goals and priorities moving into 2020. 

Next, Silicon Ranch Corporation’s Director of Regenerative Energy and Land Management, Michael Baute, spoke about the company’s holistic approach to solar power plant design, construction, and operations. Since launching Regenerative Energy with one 52-acre project in 2018, the program has grown exponentially with 31 projects on 5,923 acres throughout five states this year.

On TAEBC’s Energy Mentor Network Panel, Helge Nestler, Founder and President of Ginko Technologies, pitched his startup and mission to accelerate the use of sustainable waste treatment methods to reduce landfills and recover energy from waste. Afterwards, he was joined by Ira Weiss, Energy Mentor Network Entrepreneur-in-Residence and principal of Weiss Associates, for a panel discussion about Nestler’s entrepreneurial journey and value of the Energy Mentor Network program for startups like Ginko Technologies.

Later, Drew Frye, Senior Power Utilization Engineer at TVA, spoke about EV trends and the utility’s EV strategy for the state. In addition to providing a 10-year snapshot of the role of EVs from 2010 until now, Frye highlighted TVA’s role with Drive Electric Tennessee and what is next on the horizon for TVA, including improving charging infrastructure, enhancing consumer awareness, promoting supportive EV policies, and ensuring EV availability. 

Commissioner Salyers also spoke about Drive Electric Tennessee and the continued development of a statewide EV charging network. He reinforced TDEC’s commitment to providing a cleaner, safer environment and support for technologies that reduce emissions and improve air quality. Through its electrification efforts, “TDEC seeks to improve transportation efficiency, reduce vehicle emissions, and strengthen the resiliency of the transportation sector.”  

“Our vision for Tennessee is to become a leader in the electric transportation space,” remarked Salyers. “Electric vehicles have the potential to make our transportation system both more efficient and more resilient. We are excited to continue working alongside our fantastic partners to achieve these benefits.”

During Commissioner Rolfe’s TNECD update, he emphasized how the agency’s “first job” is to create high-quality jobs for Tennesseans. His second job, explained Rolfe, is to make sure the companies that call Tennessee home “are happy,” such as Volkswagen, Nissan, and others who are focused on EV efforts. 

“We’re going to focus on recruiting companies to Tennessee that are focused on the electric vehicle business because we think it’s here to stay,” said Rolfe. “For Tennessee to remain number one in the southeast, we’re going to be doubling down on those efforts.”

After their presentations, Saylers and Rolfe held a joint Q&A session, where they answered a range of audience questions. For example, when asked what TAEBC can do to support the state’s efforts in propelling electrification efforts further, Saylers emphasized the importance of workforce development programs that promote technical training for jobs that support the state’s advanced energy economy.

Rolfe echoed Sayler’s statements, adding, “a lot of good things are happening in Tennessee, but what we can continue to do is to make it the most inviting, business friendly state to come do business in.”