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

Written by

151694666 3601977996537551 5217723614434192164 n

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

Rate this item
(3 votes)
Published in News

Related items

  • University of Tennessee climate panel: Scientists say don't despair. Yet.
    in News

     bwhi1apicaaamlo.jpg large

    Scientists discuss climate challenges and solutions during 2021 One Health Day

    As climate experts and scientists huddled in Glasgow in an international effort to stem potentially disastrous global environmental changes, a panel of doctors representing multiple disciplines at the University of Tennessee and beyond offered their assessments of climate challenges and solutions.

    Their take on climate change? We have problems, but we also have solutions. Hopelessness will drive you crazy. Stay healthy, stay informed and do your part to mitigate the long-term environmental consequences of a changing Earth. 

    Above all: Don’t despair and don’t lose hope.

    The panel, held Nov. 3 at the UT Student Union and presented by the UT One Health Initiative, consisted of the following experts:

    -Dr. Gus Engman, Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture 

    -Dr. Kate Evans, Computational Sciences and Engineering Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    -Dr. Joshua Fu, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Tennesse

    -Dr. Sindhu Jagadamma, Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture

    -Dr. Kristina Kintziger, Department of Public Health, University of Tennessee

    Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity and don’t include the full response. Questions were submitted ahead of time or during the panel discussion. 

    What do you see as the largest threats of climate change, especially related to your individual research interests?

    Engman: Changing precipitation patterns are something I think about a lot.

    Pretty much all the rivers in the world are expected to have changes to their flow regime.

    These changes in droughts and floods are a really large issue.

    I think a lot about aquatic communities. If we are scarce on drinking water, we are always going to prioritize people having that water, over the fish or the bugs in the streams. 

    There are all kinds of impacts to life histories and interactions with communities in streams. 

    When animals are stressed because of these changes in precipitation patterns and changes in flow patterns, they might become more susceptible to other stressors, like disease. 

    Changes in algal community composition can impact the entire water quality of a stream, and that might happen because of these changes in precipitation patterns.

    These places that are experiencing these extreme droughts really worry me. The Colorado River already doesn’t even flow all the way to the ocean anymore. That’s a huge change. Because we take up so much water for agriculture. 

    If a stream runs out of water, it’s not a stream anymore.

    Evans: From a meteorological perspective, the biggest event that hurts people's health is actually heat waves. A lot of press goes to tornadoes and hurricanes and storms but in fact these large domes of hot air (are deadly), which happen because of changes in the large-scale weather patterns.

    The greenhouse effect insulates the earth, it makes it more uniform in temperature and so that changes the flow patterns that go around the earth. That changes those big weather systems that come in and how long they stick around. 

    When you talk about these long droughts, we know that’s what's we have to understand: Will they last longer, be more humid, less humid, and that has huge impacts for human health as well as the food they eat and the plants that grow. 

    Kintziger: Heat also has a bigger impact on a more indirect pathway to human health. Not just heat-related illness but also cardiovascular impacts, renal impacts and even mental health impacts.

    Heat is the one that keeps me up at night. We are seeing increasing temperatures globally and we also have this urban heat island affect. 

    Our vulnerable populations in the cities — inner cities with lower-income housing, homeless populations — they are going to experience heat very differently than people who live in newer buildings with better cooling and infrastructure and have better capabilities for adapting to heat. 

  • Knoxville electric bus fleet expands; furthers city efforts to reduce its carbon footprint
    in News

    kat electricbus1

    Grant to expand electric fleet will help city advance its emissions-reduction goals

    The federal government kicked down a $4.8 million grant to Knoxville for additional electric transit buses. It will expand the current Knoxville Area Transit electric fleet by six vehicles, the city announced July 12. That means KAT could have a total of 18 electric buses operating on routes across the city by the end of next year.

    The funds were disbursed from the federal Low and No Emission Vehicle Grant Program, which helps municipal transit agencies acquire low- or zero-emission buses and other transit vehicles, according to the city. Sen. Bill Hagerty and Rep. Tim Burchett supported the grant application. 

    KAT wants to electrify its entire 71-bus fleet within eight years. 

    “This will go a long way in helping KAT transition to an all-electric fleet,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said in the news release. “With each new electric bus, we are reducing our carbon footprint. We are moving closer toward our goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions associated with City operations by 50 percent by 2030 — and a communitywide reduction of 80 percent by 2050.”  

    The grant furthers a city goal of replacing aging KAT diesel buses “with state-of-the-art electric buses that are about three times more fuel-efficient than a standard diesel bus (13 MPGDE vs. 4.4 MPG),” according to the city. 

    “Knoxville Area Transit provides an important service for folks in Knoxville, which is why earlier this year I asked the Federal Transit Administration to give KAT’s Low-No application grant full consideration,” Burchett said in the city release. “I’m glad this grant was awarded to our community so KAT can modernize its fleet to be more efficient and environmentally friendly.” 

  • Ecological Society of America honors Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists for sustainability research
    in News

    ORNL researchers receive 2021 Sustainability Science Award for mapping human influence on U.S. river and stream changes 

    Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory mapped and quantified hydrological changes throughout the country due to urban development, energy production and other human factors and won a prestigious award for their efforts.

    The team’s analysis was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and received the 2021 Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America.

    “The Sustainability Science Award recognizes the authors of a scholarly work that make a substantial contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences. The researchers will be recognized during the society’s annual meeting in August,” according to an ORNL release announcing the award.

    The research coupled U.S. Geological Survey stream-flow records with geospatial modeling to quantify human impact on national water resources and concluded the 7 percent of affected aquatic systems hold 60 percent of North American freshwater fish, mussels and other species.

    “This work exemplifies how ORNL’s interdisciplinary research in environmental and geospatial science helps equip decision makers with the tools needed to move our nation toward a more sustainable future,” Stan Wullschleger, associate laboratory director for ORNL’s Biological and Environmental Systems Science Directorate, said in the release.

    Lead author Ryan McManamay, an aquatic ecologist and faculty member at Baylor University, was with ORNL’s Environmental Sciences Division at the time of publication. Co-authors include ORNL’s Sujithkumar Surendran Nair, Christopher DeRolph, the late April Morton, Robert Stewart, Matthew Troia and Budhendra Bhaduri; Northern Arizona University’s Benjamin Ruddell; and the University of Tennessee’s Liem Tran and Hyun Kim.

    “It was a privilege to work with this team that spanned across multiple disciplines and institutions,” said Bhaduri, an ORNL Corporate Research Fellow and director of ORNL’s Geospatial Science and Human Security Division. “Given the impacts of climate change, there has never been a more pressing opportunity to address environmental sustainability. It’s a tremendous honor to make this scientific contribution and to be recognized for it.”

  • “Gas” stations will survive as electrons replace gasoline
    Bloomberg: Most traditional fueling stations will adapt and survive as electricity replaces gasoline

    Bloomberg Climate Newsletter has an interesting take on what may become of traditional gas stations — and their associated retail services and employees — as fuel sources transition from gasoline to electricity.

    There's already a case in point: Norway, where gasoline use has peaked and the transportation economy is moving away from traditional fossil-fuel filling stations.

    In short, there will still be demand and purpose for convenience stores in some areas, they'll just be selling a different type of fuel.