Study: TVA lags be­hind com­peti­tors on so­lar

Power to triple in re­gion, but TVA re­mains ‘sun­blocker,’ en­vi­ron­men­tal group says

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE FLESSNER STAFF WRITER

The South­east United States is in­creas­ingly be­ing pow­ered by the sun, with so­lar power gen­er­a­tion ex­pected to triple in the next five years, ac­cord­ing to a new study by the South­ern Al­liance for Clean En­ergy.

But the en­vi­ron­men­tal group claims the Ten­nessee Val­ley Author­ity is not keep­ing pace with its peers, es­pe­cially util­i­ties in North Car­olina, Ge­or­gia and Florida.

“So­lar in the South­east has been vir­tu­ally dou­bling every year since 2012,” said Dr. Stephen Smith, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the South­ern Al­liance for Clean En­ergy. “We’ve seen sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments and sig­nif­i­cant lead­er­ship by a num­ber of util­i­ties and this is a great eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment tool to cre­ate jobs and to at­tract busi­nesses in­ter­ested in clean en­ergy.”

But Smith said TVA, which was an early leader in small-scale, dis­trib­uted so­lar, got less than 40 per­cent as much from so­lar power last year as the av­er­age of all elec­tric util­i­ties in the South­east. TVA’s pro­jected growth in so­lar also is not as much as in neigh­bor­ing states where state leg­is­la­tion and util­ity reg­u­la­tors are push­ing for more so­lar gen­er­a­tion.

“Look­ing at the low per­for­mance path that TVA is cur­rently on, cou­pled with their cur­rent rate change process that fur­ther un­der­cuts so­lar de­vel­op­ment in their ser­vice ter­ri­tory, it is clear that TVA will need a se­ri­ous course cor­rec­tion to avoid be­ing in last place in the re­gion,” Smith said.

But TVA of­fi­cials said Tues­day the fed­eral util­ity re­mains com­mit­ted to adding more re­new­able en­ergy, which al­ready ac­counts for more than 10 per­cent of TVA’s gen­er­a­tion due to its net­work of 29 hy­dro­elec­tric dams and its pur­chases of both wind and so­lar gen­er­ated power.

TVA spokesman Jim Hop­son said TVA has nearly 500 megawatts of so­lar power un­der con­tract, in­clud­ing 70 megawatts added at its River­bend fa­cil­ity built by Nex­tEra En­ergy Re­source in Alabama.

“... it is clear that TVA will need a se­ri­ous course cor­rec­tion to avoid be­ing in last place in the re­gion.” – STEPHEN SMITH, EX­EC­U­TIVE DI­REC­TOR OF SOUTH­ERN AL­LIANCE FOR CLEAN EN­ERGY

“We re­cently added 3,000 so­lar pan­els to the new Allen Com­bined Cy­cle Nat­u­ral Gas plant (in Mem­phis) and have an ad­di­tional 50-plus megawatt fa­cil­ity un­der con­struc­tion just north of Mem­phis,” Hop­son said. “We’ve also re­cently is­sued a re­quest pro­posal for up to 200 ad­di­tional megawatts of so­lar en­ergy.”

TVA Pres­i­dent Bill John­son said the util­ity plans to in­vest at least $8 bil­lion over the next 20 years in re­new­able en­ergy.

Ad­di­tion­ally, lo­cal power com­pa­nies such as Chattanooga’s EPB re­cently com­pleted a com­mu­nity so­lar ar­ray, and the Nashville Elec­tric Ser­vice is ex­pected to break ground on a sim­i­lar fa­cil­ity on Mon­day.

John­son said TVA is re­quired by the TVA Act to sup­ply power at the low­est fea­si­ble cost. While re­new­able en­ergy has come down in price, it is of­ten not the low­est cost al­ter­na­tive. So­lar also is an in­ter­mit­tent power source, only avail­able when the sun is shin­ing and the wind is blow­ing.

“Our cus­tomers have rooftop so­lar pan­els and they are also do­ing com­mu­nity so­lar and I ex­pect there will be more of that,” John­son told re­porters fol­low­ing a TVA board meet­ing in Chattanooga this month. “But our prime direc­tive is de­liv­er­ing power at the low­est fea­si­ble rate.”

John­son said other util­i­ties are do­ing more so­lar “be­cause those are reg­u­lated states and in their reg­u­la­tions, they have ei­ther a re­quire­ment or an op­por­tu­nity to do those pro­grams and make money.

On Mon­day, Ge­or­gia Power an­nounced that First So­lar will be­gin de­vel­op­ing and build­ing the largest stand­alone PV so­lar plant in the south­east­ern United States near Warner Robins, Ga. Once com­pleted, the 200 megawatt plant is ex­pected to gen­er­ate more than 450 gi­gawatt-hours of elec­tric­ity each year.

“Re­cently com­pleted large-scale so­lar projects across Ge­or­gia are serv­ing cus­tomers to­day, and the Twiggs County project will be the lat­est ad­di­tion, al­low­ing Ge­or­gia Power cus­tomers to ben­e­fit from cost-ef­fec­tive, com­pet­i­tive so­lar as part of our di­verse gen­er­a­tion mix,” said Wil­son Mal­lard, di­rec­tor of re­new­able de­vel­op­ment for Ge­or­gia Power.

En­vi­ron­men­tal crit­ics of TVA con­tend the fed­eral util­ity isn’t giv­ing enough credit for the sta­ble and green value of so­lar power, which doesn’t in­crease in costs be­cause of fuel ex­penses and doesn’t cre­ate the pol­lu­tion prob­lems of coal, gas or nu­clear power plants which can leave costly legacy cleanup ex­penses, even af­ter the plants quit gen­er­at­ing power.

In its new­est news­let­ter, the South­ern Al­liance for Clean En­ergy blasts TVA for lag­ging its peers in the South­east in build­ing, buy­ing and pro­mot­ing so­lar power. The en­vi­ron­men­tal group says TVA, San­tee Cooper and Semi­nole Elec­tric “thus far failed to rec­og­nize this new eco­nomic re­al­ity for so­lar.

“These util­i­ties op­er­ate in a pub­lic pol­icy vac­uum and the slow pace of so­lar re­flects out­dated think­ing within the util­ity’s man­age­ment,” said Bryan Ja­cob, the so­lar pro­gram di­rec­tor for SACE.

The SACE study projects so­lar gen­er­a­tion in the South­east will grow to 10,000 megawatts by 2019 and to 15,000 megawatts by 2021. TVA, which got 82 watts per per­son from so­lar gen­er­a­tion last year, is pro­jected to get 125 watts per cus­tomer from so­lar by 2021.

Con­tact Dave Flessner at df­less­ner@ times­freep­ress.com or at 757-6340

STAFF FILE PHOTO

Robert Cole takes a lunch break from work­ing on EPB’s So­lar Share Farm lo­cated off of Holtz­claw Av­enue last April.

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