The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Tennessee is a national leader in electric-car production and parts. Celebrate at this summer’s Get Off the Grid Fest in Chattanooga

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Not just for preppers anymore: Chattanooga energy-independence event promises three days of music, learning and fun “powered by the sun.” 

A decade ago, the cost of the equipment needed to live off the grid limited the experience to the wealthy few. Presently, and in the near future, the technology is far more widely available to even modest income homesteaders. These days, you can’t afford NOT to get off the grid.” - Bill Fleming

The Chattanooga and Middle Tennessee areas are among the top producers of electric cars in the nation. What better place to facilitate and celebrate the growing use of alternative fuels? 

This summer’s Get off the Grid Fest near Chattanooga is a phenomenon with roots in the alternative energy movement of past decades. Today, it offers a strong vision for attaining energy independence and building sustainable communities for the present and future.

The latest installment of the festival is set for the weekend of Aug. 20-22 at Camp Jordan in East Ridge. 

Bill Fleming and Ed Witkin are bringing the traveling, biennial festival to East Tennessee this year. They are musicians and festival organizers and have been promoting and installing alternative energy technology for decades. The events are billed as ways “to explore and present practical methods of protecting and preserving our natural resources,” according to organizers, with a focus on harnessing alternative energy sources.

The celebration of energy independence — and ways to achieve it — will include three music stages; a curated art exhibit; an electric vehicle exposition; a sustainability fair with workshops such as homesteading demonstrations; and a health and wellness tent. 

The East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition and Drive Electric Tennessee are partnering with Stephen McCord to offer the Electric Vehicle Expo (EVX). 

“EVX is Tennessee’s first multi-day music festival/exposition showcasing the latest in electric vehicle products, components, and services,” said McCord, the owner/operator of B Presents, a Nashville-based company that provides concert and event promotion, entertainment marketing, and promotional services.

The Electric Vehicle Expo will include vendors across the entire EV spectrum, including OEMs, dealers, and suppliers for a full weekend of  presentations, test drives, workshops and guest speakers. 

McCord noted Tennessee is first in the Southeast in electric vehicle production and third in the nation, after California and Michigan. The Nissan Leaf is produced in Spring Hill and the Volkswagen Id.4 in Chattanooga, and Tennessee is poised to move ahead in the market. 

General Motors is spending $2 billion to convert the Smyrna plant to electric-vehicle production. The Chevrolet Bolt will continue to be produced elsewhere, but the Smyrna site will build the all-electric Cadillac LYRIQ

Chevrolet will produce the storage batteries for the LYRIQ in Tennessee as well. Several parts manufacturers for the various electric vehicles are spread across Tennessee. 

McCord said EVX will include several models from California-based Tesla, and the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt and Volkswagen ID.4. He also has arranged an appearance by the futuristic Arcimoto, a three-wheeled solar-powered vehicle built on a motorcycle chassis.

Aptera Motors also plans a mass-produced three-wheeled electric vehicle and hopes to have a demonstration ready in time for the festival. Its three-wheeler includes a solar component which supplements the plug-in recharger and extends the range to 1,000 miles between charging, and allows day-to-day use without a charging station. McCord said the plan is to reach a long-term objective of getting vehicles off the grid entirely. 

While many electric cars ultimately get their current from an electrical grid still dominated by fossil fuel sources, by some estimates electric car efficiency and fuel-source sustainability still substantially outweigh that of fossil-fueled vehicles.

McCord said that Get off the Grid Fest will include a dedicated EVX tent and a ride-and-drive exhibit of electric vehicles. He emphasized most music festivals exist only for the music, but Get off the Grid Fest will offer much more.

More than 70 local and regional practitioners and environmental experts will give demonstrations and talks on projects ranging from homesteading and mushroom farming to green jobs and financing solar projects. 

McCord’s  plan dovetails nicely with that of Fleming and Witkin for the festival. Fleming organized an alternative energy festival in Atlanta in the 1980s and has remained active in sustainable energy production ever since. He said the August event will also demonstrate the importance of community-driven sustainability goals.

“Rather than an act of individualistic isolation, getting and living off the grid is a community effort that, in turn, builds community,” Fleming said.

“Many associate those who live off-grid with people who are ‘prepping’ for a dystopian future breakdown of society and violent competition for scant resources. 

“On the contrary, off-gridders are taking the steps now to preserve resources and conserve our environment so that the Earth will be able to sustain future generations.”

The organizers see this festival as creating a platform and space where people can share ideas and plans. In addition, they want to expand the concept of what it means to be self-sufficient.

They envision an immediate future where people produce more of their own energy, food, and health care. They have implemented small hydro-pumps that harness flowing streams to power a tiny house or trailer. They have also promoted and installed solar-powered water pumps for wells and other water supplies.

Fleming also wants to expand off-grid capabilities to traditionally under-served and minority communities, both urban and rural. 

Nashvillian Jason Carney, the Black president of the Tennessee Solar Energy Association, will speak at the festival.

“Going into [a] boardroom, I’m the only person of color,” Carney said in an interview with National Public Radio.

“We go to these conferences, and I’m the only person of color. We go to the U.S. Green Building Council — the local chapter — and of 200 people, it might be me and maybe one other person of color,” he said. “It was very intimidating.”

Mark Jacobson, a Stanford professor whose work, organizers said, is the scientific basis of the so-called Green New Deal will deliver the keynote address on Saturday evening.

The event organizers also see self-care as an essential part of off-the-grid living. Organizations like Haygood Farms will offer resources to support health and wellbeing

The first Get off the Grid Fest took place at Blairsville, Georgia, in 2017 and the second at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina in 2019. This year, it is coming to Chattanooga, and in 2023, the organizers are considering Virginia or South Carolina.

One ticket price includes all events at the festival. Go to Get Off the Grid Fest for more information.

 2021 1 FOCE Jason Carney WBJason Carney is president of the Tennessee Solar Energy Association and will address the challenges faced by minorities in their quest for sustainable energy sources during the 2021 Get Off the Grid Fest in Chattanooga. Courtesy Tennessee Solar Energy Association

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