On November 2nd, TSEA will hold the 4th annual Solar Tour. One of the stops on the tour will be with Twin Willows Development off of Hardin Valley Rd, near Buttermilk Dr. The first house, installed with DOW’s solar shingles, will be explained by subdivision developer Adam Hutsell, and his installer, Jim Laborde. This will be a first for TVA, in which a developer will be installing solar as part of the overall construction of the homes at no extra cost. In addition to the solar, the energy saving features of the construction and choice of appliances tend to save energy, reducing the cost of monthly expenses. The tour will begin with an introductory talk at 8:30, at the Public Meeting room at Knoxville Transit Center on Church St(across the street to the Civic Center). We have limited seating, so arrive as soon as possible to ensure a place on our bus!
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.”
Strata Solar is working with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Pickwick Electric Cooperative to develop the two largest solar energy installations in the Tennessee Valley near Selmer in McNairy County, TN. TVA will buy the electricity at market rates under TVA’s Renewable Standard Offer program.
“This project will add a tremendous amount of solar power to our already strong renewable lineup,” said Patty West, TVA director of Renewable Energy Programs. “Because TVA is purchasing the output at market rates, the electricity will also be among our cheapest solar power, moving us toward our vision of being a national leader in providing low-cost and cleaner energy.”
Current plans call for the solar farms to have more than 160,000 solar panels installed on over 300 acres. Each farm will be four times bigger than the largest current solar installation on the TVA system, the University of Tennessee’s five-megawatt West Tennessee Solar Farm that opened in 2012 in Haywood County, TN.
The Strata Solar projects have been accepted into TVA’s Renewable Standard Offer program, pending an environmental review and interconnection studies that must be completed before construction begins. TVA is accepting public comments on the environmental review online at http://www.tva.com/environment/reports/strata/index.htm through Aug. 13.
For years, power companies have watched warily as solar panels have sprouted across the nation’s rooftops. Now, in almost panicked tones, they are fighting hard to slow the spread. And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid. The battle is playing out among energy executives, lawmakers and regulators across the country. At the heart of the fight is a credit system called net metering, which pays residential and commercial customers for excess renewable energy they sell back to utilities. Currently, 43 states, the District of Columbia and 4 territories offer a form of the incentive, according to the Energy Department.
Many utilities cling to their established business, and its centralized distribution of energy, until they can figure out a new way to make money. It is a question the Obama administration is grappling with as well as it promotes the integration of more renewable energy into the grid. “I see an opportunity for us to recreate ourselves, just like the telecommunications industry did,” Michael W. Yackira, chief executive of NV Energy, a Nevada utility, and chairman of the industry group the Edison Electric Institute, said at the group’s convention. But utility executives say that when solar customers no longer pay for electricity, they also stop paying for the grid, shifting those costs to other customers.
Utilities generally make their profits by making investments in infrastructure and designing customer rates to earn that money back with a guaranteed return, set on average at about 10 percent. A handful of utilities have taken a different approach and are instead getting into the business of developing rooftop systems themselves. Dominion, for example, is running a pilot program in Virginia in which it leases roof space from commercial customers and installs its own panels to study the benefits of a decentralized generation.
Featured in the July/August issue of Solar Today Magazine is our remedy for this issue. Solar energy through micro-investing could be a solution for both the utility company and the customer. The individual or business would invest in solar energy with a small monthly purchase, perhaps $5 per month, using the micro-investment plan. This would provide opportunities to for all rate payers to invest in solar projects that would directly benefit them through lower electricity rates and return on investment. It overcomes the financing and siting obstacles that can keep would-be investors on the sidelines. As an example, if all TVA ratepayers became micro-investors at a rate of $5 per month, each year TVA would generate $135 million for constructing solar farms. This model protects everyone’s interest.