Solar farm at event hall marries lower energy bills and environmental stewardship

Tara Plumlee grew up in the food industry – helping at her father’s barbecue restaurant from the age of 13. After trying her hand at owning and operating a restaurant, she started The Catering Companies in Chattanooga to give her a more flexible schedule as a new mom.

The beginning of a bright future

When clients asked where they should host the events she was catering, Tara saw an opportunity. Her catering company quickly grew to include multiple event venues.

She now owns several well-known event sites, including The Mill of Chattanooga, and more recently, Bell Mill Mansion.

Standing at over 21,000 square feet on 32 acres, Bell Mill Mansion includes 15 bedrooms, a spa, an outdoor tennis court, a pool, and many more luxurious amenities that would make any visitor’s stay worthwhile.  Just as they would for any property of this magnitude, the electric bills started to add up.

“In comparison to my other properties, Bell Mill was a whole different animal,” says Tara. “The energy bills were extravagant!”

Her father, who had once used solar panels to power his rural cabin in Colorado, suggested she look into installing a small solar farm in one of the Mansion’s large backfields. “My dad’s two cents on solar power ended up being worth a couple thousand dollars,” says Tara.

Taking charge of energy bills through solar power

Using a Pathway Lending Energy Efficiency Loan, Tara worked with Tennessee Solar Solutions to install solar panels to alleviate electricity expenditures for the Bell Mill property. They installed a 100kW solar system that’s expected to produce 139,700 kWh annually, which will equate to $15,902 in revenue.

“From a business standpoint, the tax write-offs are amazing,” says Tara. “Of course I have the lingering benefit of the lowered bills, plus it’s environmentally friendly. As a business owner, you want to make the right decision for your company, but you’re also doing something good for the Earth.”

Becoming a solar-savvy entrepreneur

Tara isn’t just proud of being “solar savvy;” she takes pride in the fact that she’s one of the few women business owners in the area to make such an investment to her company. She advises other women who own businesses to not let fear stop them from their goals.

“As an entrepreneur, I have the autonomy to create my own destiny. Nobody’s stopping me,” says Tara. “For a lot of people when you’re in a job, there’s an end to how far you can go. But because I own my own business, there’s no limit. I can do anything.”

Bell Mill Mansion is the ultimate wedding destination, event venue, banquet hall, and high-end vacation rental property in the Chattanooga area. Learn more about Bell Mill Mansion at, or see all of Tara’s properties and catering company at


Interested in solar and other energy efficient projects for your business?

Learn more about Pathway Lending’s Energy Efficiency lending program visit our Energy Efficiency Loan Program page