Following a groundbreaking ceremony held earlier in September, solar startup Clearloop is poised to bring workforce and economic development to Jackson, Tennessee. The new project, co-founded by former governor Phil Bredesen, offers companies the opportunity to invest in renewable energies and offset their carbon footprint. Because there is no minimum investment, Clearloop gives small businesses and individuals a way to participate in greening the electricity grid.
Clearloop broke new ground at a community ceremony on September 2 in Jackson. CEO Laura Zapata said the project would power around 200 homes in the region over the next 40 years and offset around 60 million pounds of carbon. Zapata says the company chose Jackson because of its central location between Nashville and Memphis, but also because part of Clearloop’s mission is to locate in places where solar projects “go deeper” and have more impact. Zapata, who grew up in Memphis, says cities like Nashville are seeing a lot of economic and financial investment. Clearloop, however, wanted to choose a location that benefited the community more.
“Was it important to focus not only on the grime of the network and the sun, but also on the importance of this for the community?” Zapata said. “[Jackson is a] combination of all of these factors, and it just so happens that it’s very nice for us to be able to build in Tennessee as our first project.
Funding for Clearloop comes primarily from small businesses and buying individuals. Zapata says that a detergent company, for example, measures the carbon footprint of shipping and manufacturing, and investing in a solar company means it can offset that. Zapata says these companies buy “carbon offsets” to help meet sustainability goals they set for themselves, and that many companies had never heard of Jackson or even been to Tennessee before working. with Clearloop. But investing is not limited to businesses; Zapata says an author of children’s books wants to offset the carbon footprint of printing and shipping books and has purchased carbon offset credits through Clearloop.
Zapata says there is no minimum to invest, making renewables more accessible to businesses with smaller budgets. She also says that consumers have fueled much of the drive for businesses to go greener in the first place, and that during and after the pandemic, consumers have shown a strong desire to support and buy from more businesses. sustainable. This has created a lot of business for Clearloop, and Zapata encourages people with a passion for solar energy to schedule a meeting via their website.
“We can offset your carbon footprint by avoiding fossil fuels [fueling] electricity, ”says Zapata. “We are cleaning up the grid and preventing more carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere.”
Zapata and Bredesen are joined as co-founders of Clearloop by Bob Corney, who has a long career in communications and was director of communications in the administration of the Governor of Bredesen. Bredesen is executive chairman of the board of directors of Clearloop and describes himself as a “jack of all trades, master of nothing”. Bredesen says that during his tenure as governor he found solar to be less political and easier to support compared to other climate change topics that could sometimes polarize into a red state.
Although he initially viewed solar power as a fairly expensive “boutique” industry, he realized that there were more opportunities than he thought. Bredesen founded Silicon Ranch 10 years ago, a solar company with a solar project similar to that of Clearloop in Jackson. Silicon Ranch works with bigger clients like Facebook, but Bredesen wanted more than the social media giants to have access to solar power.
“There are a lot of companies that want to green things,” says Bredesen. “Electricity is a great way to do this. The idea of Clearloop [was] anyone could play, not just large corporations.
Bredesen, like Zapata, says very little is happening in the United States in terms of effective national policy regarding solar or green infrastructure. They say the private sector must fill in the gaps in national policy if we hope to slow climate change and make a positive difference. In the long run, Bredesen says that 40 years from now, when the Clearloop project is completed, it’s likely we’ll have new and better types of solar panels that we can replace them with. However, Zapata also says that after the 40-year tenure, there is a possibility that the land could be reused for agricultural purposes and could support cattle or sheep.
Clearloop’s new solar project will not only benefit Jackson economically, but it will also partner with Tennessee College of Applied Technology to provide a training program for students of photovoltaic technicians.
In the short term, Jackson is likely to receive an economic boost, said Kyle Spurgeon, president and CEO of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce. Spurgeon says he first heard of Clearloop two years ago, when the founders contacted. He says Jackson may be more desirable for businesses looking for locations to build, as fiber-optic internet connectivity and a new solar project make the city more competitive and attractive. Clearloop will also create new jobs during the construction period and become a county taxpayer.
Clearloop will work not only on Jackson’s economic development, but also on the development of its workforce; the company has developed a relationship with TCAT, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology. TCAT President Dr Jeff Sisk says the college’s goal is to prepare students for the future of their industries and that it currently offers an apprenticeship program as an electrician. However, with the introduction of Clearloop, the college has almost reached the tipping point of offering a more specialized solar PV technician program.
“Renewable energies will only grow in the future and we just need to increase the workforce to move forward,” Sisk said. “And that’s what we’re working on.”
Spurgeon says he is familiar with stereotypes that the South does not welcome talks about climate change, and Bredesen’s own Silicon Ranch has entered “a US solar market dominated by companies from Europe and the West and the American Southwest “when it was founded in 2011, according to their website. Clearloop, however, can help change those stereotypes and showcase the Southeast and Tennessee as leaders in greener renewable energy. Zapata says he is proud that the three founders are Tennessees and that the South is a key player in solar energy.
“We deserve as much access to clean energy as anyone else,” says Zapata.