I went to Tennessee to see some solar projects and check a total solar eclipse off my bucket list. Here’s what I learned.
I drove down to Nashville, Tennessee from Akron, Ohio, on Saturday, August 19, bracing for apocalypse-scale traffic but pleasantly surprised at the easy drive.
On Sunday, I drove East to Cookeville, another city in the path of totality, to meet with Carlos Mayer of Vis Solis and tour the company’s utility-scale 1-MW project between a highway and wetlands. Many of the racks stood bare, waiting for panels and slightly resembling roller coaster tracks at an amusement park. The 201 tariff was to blame for the delay on panels. Mayer said even though the array was in the path of totality, he wasn’t concerned about the effects on solar production, comparing it to “just another cloudy day.”
On the morning of the eclipse, I met LightWave Solar’s president Chris Koczaja at one of the company’s installations on a local trucking company called Conard Logistics. We were supposed to meet with the trucking company owner Joe Conard too, but he was running around, driving forklifts and picking up other slack left by employees taking what he called “Eclipse Day” off. Koczaja told me about the unique solar awning that LightWave designed for Conard, who wanted solar for both its cost savings and environmental impacts.
I was warned again to try and beat eclipse-day traffic, so I went to the viewing party sponsored by LightWave Solar called “Love & Unity Under One Sun” right after the morning meeting. The solar contractor chose to sponsor this event because it was for the community rather than tourists—and an underserved community at that. The local vibe was palpable from the beginning—people brought camp chairs, snacks, umbrellas and fans to beat the over-90 degree heat. Most tried to secure a spot underneath the huge tree in the middle of the park.
A group of college-aged men behind me strummed a guitar lazily, and local activists and entertainers took turns on the stage playing songs and reciting words of unity and connection to the Earth.
Some fluffy cumulus clouds appeared on the horizon just as the moon began to take a tiny bite out of the sun. People started standing up with their eclipse viewing glasses on, exclaiming in awe when the moon made more progress over the sun. The temperature began to drop, the light took on a sepia-toned hue and the insects started singing their evening songs. Then the moon fully eclipsed the sun, the sky went dark, the streetlights clicked on and the magnificent halo of the sun was visible to the naked eye. The crowd applauded and cheered. Then the moon continued its course and the sun’s rays burst out again, giving us a second sunrise of the day.
I left right after the eclipse and got the doomsday traffic I expected. A typically eight-hour drive back to Akron took 15, but there was something special about crawling back up North with so many other people who had just seen something unforgettable. Though I am sleep-deprived as I write this, I know it was all worth it for this once-in-a-lifetime solar spectacle.