Archive for August 29, 2013

Cap on TVA purchases brings solar eclipse to industry

Since the year 2000, the number of solar power installations in the Tennessee Valley has grown from only three to nearly 1,700.
Buoyed by some of the most generous incentives offered by any utility in the South, TVA gets as much power from the sun as it does from either Norris or Chickamauga dams.
But the boom in small-scale solar generation has turned to a bust for many solar installers this summer. TVA capped its 17-cents-per-kilowatt-hour payment for solar generation to only 10 megawatts this year and the limit quickly was reached before many interested homeowners and businesses were able to take advantage of the offer.
Solar power enthusiasts appealed to TVA directors Thursday to buy more solar through its Green Power Providers program. TVA spends about $25 million a year in above-market payments to buy solar generation to help meet its goal of getting more electricity from renewable sources.
As solar panels become more efficient and the industry matures, TVA is looking to cut that subsidy and move toward more market-rate prices for solar generation.
TVA and Pickwick Electric Cooperative are working with Strata Solar to develop two 20-megawatt solar farms near Selmer, Tenn., which will sell power to TVA at market rates. The new solar installations will be the biggest yet in Tennessee and could provide enough electricity for 4,000 Valley homes.
“I actually think we’ve been in a pretty good spot here,” TVA President Bill Johnson said. “As the price comes down, we can afford to do more solar.”
TVA Chairman Bill Sansom said TVA has to balance the costs of subsidizing small solar units, which tend to increase the average price of TVA power, with consumer desires for more solar and assistance to help nurture the new industry.
TVA opened up another 2.5 megawatts in its Green Power Partners program on Aug. 1, but that capacity was sold at auction in only one minute and most applicants didn’t get a piece of the program. TVA has not yet set the price or capacity for its solar programs for 2014, but officials said the utility should soon announce its plans.
“We are looking at the program and we’re looking at the type of adjustments that we can make to help make it a little more friendly for folks,” said Joe Hoagland, TVA’s senior vice president of policy and oversight.
Large-scale solar farms are adding solar generation at less cost for TVA, Hoagland said. TVA still has nearly 75 percent of the capacity available for such large-scale, market-rate solar generation.
“We want to see more of those because they not only give us more renewable energy, they do it without putting any extra burden on our other ratepayers,” Hoagland said.
Future purchase plans and incentives for renewable power will be shaped, in part, by a new Integrated Resource Plan TVA will launch this fall to study future power options for the next two decades. The updated power plan will be finalized by 2015, Hoagland said.

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TVA’s Bill Johnson Updates Repairs to Raccoon Mountain Pumped Store

Background: Raccoon Mountain pumped store is one of the largest in the United States holding the equivalent to 12% of the total energy used in Tennessee in one day. Both nuclear and solar PV need energy storage to maximize the return on investment. Pumped storage of water is the most cost effective massive energy storage method known today. Construction at Raccoon Mountain began in 1970 and was completed in 1978. The reservoir constructed at the top of the mountain has 528 acres of water surface. The dam at Raccoon Mountain’s upper reservoir is 230 feet high and 8,500 feet long. It’s the largest rockfill dam ever built by TVA. Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Station is a hydroelectric facility. It has four generating units with a net dependable capacity of 1,652 megawatts. Net dependable capacity is the amount of power a plant can produce on an average day, minus the electricity used by the plant itself. Several units at the 600 MW Raccoon Mountain pump storage facility were taken offline in 2010 due to rotor cracks.

Update on the status of the repair work at that plant by Bill Johnson. In an interview with Power Engineering Mr. Johnson, President of TVA, said that all four of those units were taken out of service after the discovery of cracks in the rotors. “There’s a similar plant in Europe where the cracks were first discovered, and when we inspected here we found the same thing. We are having new rotors manufactured in Europe. I would expect the first unit to be back online around July of this year, and the other three probably in the next ten to twelve months. We’re actively working on that. While the plant was down, we’ve done a lot of other things: replaced transformers, did some other things, but I would hope that we’ll see the first unit coming back in the July timeframe.”

Legislation Expands U.S. Hydropower Production Which Will Benefit Pumped Storage and Solar Dispatchability

Legislation designed to expand hydropower production in the United States by improving and streamlining the licensing process for small hydropower projects is now law. “President Obama’s signature on hydropower legislation is terrific news for expanding renewable energy and creating jobs across the country,” said Voith Hydro President and CEO Kevin Frank.
The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act will require FERC to examine a 2-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed loop pump storage. TVA should give top priority to increasing their pumped storage using no longer active mine, coal washing stations and converting them to closed pumped storage facilities. First, these are environmentally damaged facilities that need attention. Second, by adding a surface reservoir to receive the water from the elevated tailing ponds, TVA could increase its pumped storage first with closed pumped storage, then modifying existing dams to create a lower pond below the dam receiving stream. According to one source at TVA the issue with increasing pumped storage is the objection on environmental grounds. The answer is to select those sites that would have the lowest environmental impact using groups like the Sierra Club to help with the selection and the environmental impact study.

We need to increase pumped storage for both renewables and for nuclear plants. TVA has 47 dams listed on their website. There is a good chance that some of these dams would lend themselves to pumped storage. That is where TVA should invest.

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FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff: Solar ‘Is Going to Overtake Everything’

If anybody doubts that federal energy regulators are aware of the rapidly changing electricity landscape, they should talk to Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

“Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything,” Wellinghoff told GTM last week in a sideline conversation at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

If a single drop of water on the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium is doubled every minute, Wellinghoff said, a person chained to the highest seat would be in danger of drowning in an hour.

“That’s what is happening in solar. It could double every two years,” he said.

Geothermal, wind, and other resources will supplement solar, Wellinghoff said. “But at its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player. Everybody’s roof is out there.” Advanced storage technologies also promise lower costs, he said. “Once it is more cost-effective to build solar with storage than to build a combustion turbine or wind for power at night, that is ‘game over.’ At that point, it will be all about consumer-driven markets.”

If FERC does not ensure the grid is ready to integrate the growing marketplace demand for distributed solar and other distributed resources, Wellinghoff said, “We are going to have problems with grid reliability and overall grid costs.”

Transmission infrastructure will be able to keep up with solar growth. The big changes will be at the distribution level where FERC has less influence, he explained. But the commission has been examining the costs and benefits of distributed generation (DG) in wholesale markets.

“Rate structures need to be formulated in ways that fully recognize the costs and benefits of distributed resources,” Wellinghoff said. “In many utility retail rates, a disproportionate amount of the fixed costs are recovered through a variable rate. That is problematic when a lot of people go to distributed generation.”

The net metering controversy this has caused at utilities like Xcel and Arizona Public Service, he said, can only be resolved by “the fully allocated, fully analyzed cost and benefit study of distributed resources.”

What Makes Solar Energy Appealing?