By Leila Beem Núñez, Editor
It was last week announced that the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center would receive a grant from the Bonnaroo Works Fund to take a leap in environmental sustainability – by installing solar panels that will generate much of the location’s electricity.
The fund is a nonprofit administered by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and supports local endeavors in the areas of the arts, education and environmental sustainability.
“One of the first things I did when I got here was look at the electricity bill and think, ‘Holy cow,’ so when Bonnaroo Works announced they were taking applications, I went ahead and just put it in,” said MCCCC General Manager Rebecca French. “I had already contacted the solar company and gotten the groundwork ready for it because I knew there was going to be a solar panel grant somewhere.”
Bonnaroo Works has committed $44,000 to the project over four years, with a plan for that amount to be supplemented by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. The conference center will send in its application for the USDA grant this month, French said, which will be a one-time grant of up to $27,000.
The total cost of the project will be approximately $98,000, according to French.
The conference center will have to match Bonnaroo’s contribution by putting in $11,000 for each of the four years to pay for the solar panels. French said it is still unclear whether the match would come from city or county sources.
According to figures provided by Tennessee Solar Solutions, out of Chattanooga, the panels would generate up to approximately 42 percent of the center’s needed electricity per month.
“We’re going to have at least a $13,000 savings on our electricity bill each year,” French said, adding that a conservative estimate for the location’s monthly bill is $4,000. “An investment that would have taken nine years to get a return on is only going to take four now.”
The solar panels are to have a 20-year warranty and will lay in a shelf on top of the conference center. The panels will not penetrate the roof and will not be visible from the road.
French said the panels are the last step in making the conference center environmentally sustainable.
“We have tinted windows, we don’t use Styrofoam. Everything that we use is completely compostable,” French said.
As part of the Bonnaroo Works grant agreement, the conference center will after the solar panel installation be hosting a free sustainability conference for vendors to set up to talk to the public about sustainable products. French said it is still unclear when the panels will be fully installed.
“It really depends on the solar panel company and how long it takes for us to hear from [USDA] right now, but I’ll know we’ll be getting our [Bonnaroo Works] check any day now, so that’s great,” French said.