Solar Energy

About three percent of the Tennessee Valley Authority's energy generation mix is non-hydro renewable energy. 

The Tennessee Valley Authority is seeking public comments on an environmental assessment regarding the Green Power Providers program, its signature residential renewable energy program.

Earlier this year, TVA’s board approved closing the Green Power Providers program effective Jan. 1, pending completion of appropriate environmental review in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. If closed, current program customers would continue participation through the term of their agreements.

The environmental assessment proposes three options: maintaining the GPP program, cutting the program and offering no replacement, or closing the program and implementing a new private-scale renewable service.

TVA would prefer to improve the program, according to TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler.

“It’s been instrumental in growing renewables and private rooftop solar,” Fiedler said.

The rooftop solar environment is changing. A 30 percent federal investment tax credit will begin phasing down in 2021, and retail rate net metering (utilities pay solar owners the full retail rate for excess electricity sent to the grid) has been cut across the country, including in Kentucky.

Instead, some states have applied “adders” to wholesale electricity prices, such as the 2.5 cents per kWH adder in Mississippi, and these adders “appear to have been established through policy directives rather than comprehensive cost of service valuations,” according to a 2018 U.S. Department of Energy study.

But with solar power prices still dropping, TVA wants to be involved in the changing market, according to Fiedler.

“What we’re trying to do is keep ahead of the industry and innovate,” Fiedler said. “This is just another evolution to provide a renewables solution to our customers.”

With the current GPP program, TVA purchases all power that someone generates at a rate “relative” to their local power company, and then the person purchases power from their local power company, according to Fiedler.

When incentives were higher and TVA didn’t have size caps, the program had a fair amount of public participation. But the utility added restraints that significantly reduced participation, according to Daniel Tait, a research and communication manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.

“The program failed by TVA design,” Tait said. “TVA’s been on a large march to destroy small-scale renewables in its territory.”

For residential customers, this meant adding solar panels must also include either using batteries as a backup or using all of the energy produced on site.

“They’re forcing you to have to buy batteries or some type of backup so that it’s so expensive that they don’t do it,” Tait said.

Larger customers are instead installing solar independently and not sending anything back to the grid. In the long term, this won’t benefit utilities, according to Tait.

“Solar should be cheaper than the current wholesale price, but TVA structured it to make it cost-prohibitive,” Tait said.

Maggie Shober, director of power market analytics at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, agreed that the GPP program is being under-utilized by design.

“TVA is not fairly compensating customers for what they’re generating,” she said.

Distributed solar provides benefits to customers by reducing transmission loads, reducing the need to build new power plants and incentivizing the retiring of outdated power plants, according to Shober.

The new proposals set forth in the environmental assessment as an alternative to the GPP program are good – but they should be in addition to the GPP program, not in lieu of, Shober said.

The proposed program leaves questions for customers interested in installing solar.

“This new private scale program does not say how customers will be compensated, so it will be up to local power companies,” Shober said.

TVA will accept comments on the assessment through Nov. 8.

Comments can be submitted online at tva.com/nepa, by email to mshigdon@tva.gov, or in writing to Matthew Higdon, NEPA Specialist, Tennessee Valley Authority, 400 West Summit Hill Drive, WT 11B, Knoxville, TN 37902.

“We encourage folks to get involved,” Fiedler said. “We need your input to guide us in the direction that we need to go.”

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggers dailynews or visit bgdaily news.com.

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggersdailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

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