Tennessee Valley Authority is well on its way toward meeting its renewable energy production goals.
The multistate energy provider is in the process of updating its Integrated Resource Plan, which is a guideline for energy production.
TVA is idling some of its coal-fired plant capacity. But the overall goal is to create a balanced generation capacity, rather than just reducing coal use, according to Scott Brooks, a spokesman for TVA in Knoxville, Tenn.
Helping to balance that capacity is the organization’s Green Power Providers and Green Power Switch programs, which it operates in concert with local utilities.
“There are 65 projects operating and generating power in Kentucky,” said Matt Brown, project manager for TVA’s Green Power Providers program.
Those partner providers receive a credit on their utility bills based on the power they produce each month. The Kentucky projects include solar, wind and biomass projects that have an estimated capacity of 4.7 megawatts of renewable energy.
“That is a production of about 11.8 million kilowatt hours each year. To you and I, that is the equivalent of powering about 750 average households a year,” Brown said.
While the program now focuses on smaller-scale projects – those that are 50 kWh or below – Bowling Green does have two large solar fields that came online nearly a year before the October change in focus.
Those two solar fields at Scotty’s Industrial Park on Louisville Road each are capable of producing up to one megawatt of power. “That is about enough to power 80 to 100 homes,” Brown said.
Each of the five-acre fields is filled with shiny panels on tracks that follow the sun.
In general, solar projects in this area can be expected to generate energy about 15 percent of the time, Brown said.
But Kenny Atkinson, senior energy services adviser for Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp., said the projects here are doing much better than that because most of them do track the sun, as opposed to being set in a fixed direction.
“We have 18 to 20 sites through the TVA program, and all of them are performing better than expected,” Atkinson said. “I think all of the guys are seeing anywhere from a 15 to 25 percent return on their investment.”
How the program works is that a customer’s bill is credited each month for the amount of electricity the customer produces. The credit includes an additional premium for the type of energy they are producing – 12 cents a kWh for solar energy and 3 cents for biomass or hydro power.
That is because until recently it was much more expensive to install and maintain solar projects. “But as technology has improved, the price has been declining,” Brown said.
So that premium is expected to decline.
Atkinson said none of the generation partners in the WRECC area with solar actually has a utility bill to pay.
“In fact, many of them will get a check at the end of the year,” he said.
Atkinson said farmers in the area are eligible to apply for grants or loans for the solar equipment through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and federal energy tax credits are available.
“We’ve seen an uptick in the applications from rural customers,” Brown said.
“If I had the money, I’d install one tomorrow,” he said. “But there still is quite a bit of upfront cost.”
Neal Dillard, who lives in Rich Pond, had to shell out about $30,000 upfront to install the 16-panel fully tracking solar system. But after grants and rebates, it ended up costing him about $6,000.
“It’s been online about 13 months,” Dillard said. “The first 12 months it was in service, it paid my electric bill at my workshop in full, and they sent me a check for $429 at the end of the year.”
Dillard said a 48-by-51-foot section of his workshop has heat and air. It’s where he restores and has a museum for antique tractors and his tractor club meets.
“It has really done quite well,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about the system and they have ended up putting them in. I’m not saying I convinced them to do it, but I’ve certainly had only positive things to say about mine.”
Dillard said he’s so satisfied that he may put in another system.
Systems such as Dillard’s are inspected when they are installed and then once a year after to make sure they are properly feeding the power back to the power grid, Atkinson said.
As for whether TVA will push to expand even further its alternative power sources, Susan Curtis, manager for TVA’s end use generation in Nashville, said the agency is already on track to add 1,500 to 2,500 megawatts of cost-effective renewable energy by 2020.
“Right now we are at 1,686 megawatts in operation or that are committed,” Curtis said. “So we are well-positioned to be within that range.”
Kentucky isn’t very good for wind power production, but TVA does have other sources for wind power. The authority last month received national recognition for adding 1,100 megawatts of energy capacity at seven wind power sites. TVA now has contracts with nine wind farms in Illinois, Kansas and Iowa.
Go green without solar
For those customers who can’t install their own solar systems but still are interested in green energy, they can purchase blocks of green energy for as little as $4 a month through the Green Power Switch program. They are paying more for that green energy to help support TVA’s purchase of it from individual producers.
There are 162 customers in Kentucky and 12,000 valleywide who purchase green power.
“Both of these are long-term sustainable programs,” Curtis said.
Part of balancing the energy portfolio also has to do with controlling the demand for power by decreasing power demands.
TVA through its power providers will pay for in-home energy audits and provide rebates to customers for some of the work they have done.
Brooks said 2,659 evaluations have been performed in Kentucky. Customers were paid more than $930,000 in rebates for work through the program.
In all, about $6 million was spent on energy efficiency improvements.
“That is a real investment by the homeowners and a stimulus for the contractors,” Brooks said. “But we couldn’t do any of this without the local power companies.”
Bowling Green Municipal Utilities through Oct. 31 has had 571 energy evaluations done for its residential customers, according to spokesman Miles McDaniel.
About 83 percent of those evaluated actually performed some of the work suggested by the audits.
“That is an outstanding rate for the valley,” McDaniel said. “Customers received about $209,000 for the $1.5 million in work they did to increase their energy savings.”
McDaniel said a home evaluation costs $50, but that money is refunded if a customer performs at least $150 of the work that was recommended. On top of that, customers will get a rebate of up to $500 for any of the work they have performed.
Those audits also can be performed for WRECC customers.
Elsewhere, TVA has been working with power distributors to consider installing technology to help consumers use less power in their homes when the demand for power is greatest, usually because of industrial use.
But McDaniel said BGMU really has no immediate plans to consider such technology.
TVA recently completed a test of such a program. An energy newsletter, Fierce Energy, last month reported that Rockwood Electric Utility in Tennessee used Consert’s real-time wireless load management system in 75 homes. On one relatively warm September day, customers saved an average of 2 kW of energy, the newsletter said. Use of air conditioners, water heaters and pool pumps were managed remotely by the utility.
The utility’s website said the utility manages a household’s electric use during systemwide high-peak demand “without sacrificing comfort, while helping the community and environment.”
For customers who do want to participate, the utility will install for free a Home Area Network, that allows it to manage a customer’s energy use, the website said.
Gary Dillard, president and general manager of WRECC, said there really isn’t a big enough differentiation between the cost of power during peak and nonpeak hours to justify a big investment in new technologies.
“I do think there are some things that consumers can do on their own to reduce use,” he said.
Those things include timers for hot water heaters and programmable thermostats.
TVA also has a program to entice businesses to reduce their energy consumption through a rebate program.
Earthwell Energy Management Inc., with offices in Louisville and Bowling Green, was recognized last month at an awards ceremony in Nashville for its role in reducing electric demand in TVA’s Kentucky district.
Earthwell was awarded first place in kWh reduction in the Kentucky District by the TVA rebate program, Energy Right Solutions for Business & Industry. The energy efficiency projects performed by the company reduced energy use by 1,637,051 kWh.
Kira Costanza works in Earthwell’s Bowling Green office, where she is an energy efficiency specialist and manager of Earthwell’s TVA-related programs.
“We’ve worked with every sector, such as large industrial clients to small business, nonprofits and churches,” Costanza said.
“We do such things as lighting upgrades, lighting control projects and heating and cooling projects,” she said. “We look for the quickest payback for energy conservation measures. We offer very specific solutions for each client. More often than not we can save clients thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars on their energy.”
Costanza said clients’ rebates are based on the amount they reduce energy use.
“The rebate is capped at 70 percent of the cost of the project,” she said. “So clients could see rebates upwards of $50,000 if they invest enough money ... or it could be thousands to a couple of hundred, based on what they spent.”
Many projects also potentially qualify for federal tax credits.
“The payback on these projects is really much better than any other improvement companies can make,” Costanza said. “Right now energy costs continue going up so reducing consumption is the quickest way to reduce operating costs.”
Dana Beasley-Brown is a Bowling Green resident and member of Kentuckians for The Commonwealth. Brown more than a year ago represented the grass-roots organization at a TVA meeting in Bowling Green, at which it discussed the future of its power generation.
Beasley-Brown advocated the use of more green technology and energy consumption reduction rather than bringing on more coal power plants.
She is happy to see that the utility has mostly gone in that direction.
However, she is disappointed that utility companies such as hers, BGMU, have not implemented on bill financing for energy improvement projects.
McDaniel said BGMU has no plans to implement such a program. BGMU’s website does say that an electric water heater will be provided for free for new home construction.
There is a program to help replace heat pumps and water heaters through WRECC, according to Gary Dillard.
Customers can get a $50 rebate for installing energy-efficient water heaters. Financing through local banks can be arranged for the purchase of an approved new heat pump or recommended insulation or windows, and the loans are repayable on customer bills, Dillard said.
Costanza said it is much cheaper for TVA and utilities to incentivize customers to decrease energy use rather than to increase power generation.
— For more information, visit www.energyright.com/programs.html, wrecc.com/waysToSave/rebates.aspx, bgmu.com and www.rockwoodelectric.com/smartenergy/SmartEnergyProgram.html.