SUSTAINABILITY IN NASHVILLE AND TENNESSEE IN 2018 (updated 1/4/17)

The types of sustainability challenges that we face in Nashville and Tennessee will largely remain the same as we transition from 2017 to 2018. These issues include transportation, water management, renewable energy, waste, food systems, green building, a resilient community, and new state leadership. Fortunately, each of us have the opportunity to contribute to significant progress in 2018. We can do this through our personal and professional investments, our votes as citizens, and through volunteering or public service.

Transportation: In the words of Nashville’s Vice Mayor, the city faces its “most significant referendum since Metro's inception” on May 1, 2018 when citizens will cast their vote on Mayor Meghan Barry’s $5.2 billion transit plan. The plan includes a new 4 line, 26 mile light rail system and 5 new bus-rapid-transit lines, all serving a downtown, central station tunnel. Until May 1, you can expect growing debate in metro council meetings as they move toward a critical final vote in February. Also look for state transit discussions in 2018 following passage of the IMPROVE Act, which authorized Nashville’s transit referendum. This new transportation funding law could also catalyze additional innovations in other cities around Tennessee and in new state policy since we are approaching a key election year. Go to the links below to learn more about our transit debate.

Figure 1: Proposed Transit Plan

Water Management: Another major but improbable capital project (at the cost of $125 million) that was debated in 2017 is the proposed downtown floodwall. Unlike the proposed mass transit plan, the metro council voted 24-10 to prevent the project from moving forward for budget and council debate consideration. Other sustainable stormwater related infrastructure continues to advance with Mayor Barry’s "complete street" mandate which includes stormwater infiltration, new public stormwater system investments, and sustainable stormwater development standards. In 2018, also expect additional investments to purchase approximately 90 frequently flooded homes and lots on tributaries of the Cumberland River that will avoid onsite impacts and store/soak up water that will reduce flooding downstream.

Renewable Energy: Today in Nashville, solar generated electricity is largely confined to private residences and public roof tops such as the Music City Center and a LEED Platinum Fire Station. None of these systems provide more than 20 percent of building energy. There are large private investor and utility based solar farms scattered around Tennessee where less productive farmland is cheaper and does not compete with development. On January 16, 2018, Mayor Meghan Barry, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Nashville Electric Service will break ground on Nashville’s first, 2 MW solar farm. More Nashville solar energy projects are likely to emerge from this first seed project. To put this first solar farm and the future of renewable energy generation in perspective, the annual output of one 2 MW solar farm represents less than 1 percent of Nashville’s annual demand for electricity. By comparison, over 50 cities in eastern Massachusetts have located solar farms on landfills and Superfund sites, and many are as big and bigger than Nashville’s first proposed site. The State of Massachusetts has added 1500 MW of solar and plans to add another 1600 MW. In short, this means that Tennessee and Nashville have the opportunity to match and exceed our northern neighbors who have a much less hospitable solar position than we do in the South. Ambitious goals and continued efforts by our city and utilities can add cleaner and cheaper energy to our energy mix and help our community and state stay competitive in the future.

Figure 2: The 4.75 MW Solar Farm on a Superfund Site in Walpole, Massachusetts