TVA’s Solar Balance Limits Have Riled Some Providers

Some solar providers are chafing at limits TVA has set as it attempts to balance large solar farm installations with more smaller home rooftop solar installations. (Lance Murphey)

Solar providers in Tennessee are chafing at the limits TVA has set as it attempts to balance large solar farm installations with more smaller home rooftop solar installations. Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division is the authority’s largest customer and solar installations in the Memphis area are dominated by the large solar installation at Agricenter International and the solar farm in rural West Tennessee along Interstate 40. “We’ve actually got a balance that we are looking for,” said Chris Stanley, spokesman for TVA. “TVA overall is looking to balance our portfolio and move into cleaner energy sources. We are looking at natural gas. We’ve had a lot of hydro this year thanks to some rains earlier in the year. … We’re looking to just change the balance so we are running cleaner by 2020.”

That solar power is also more expensive for TVA, which buys it at market rate plus a premium rate of 8 cents. The premium above market rate goes directly from TVA to the providers that sell it to a local utility.
For the 2013 slate of projects, TVA has decided to reopen applications for 2.5 megawatts in the Green Power program.
The Tennessee chapter of the Solar Energy Industry Association is urging TVA directors to drop the system of caps based on the calendar year in both programs.

Steve Johnson, the president of LightWave Solar, the provider that has an office in Memphis, estimated the 2.5 megawatts is enough capacity to last about a day. The association had been hoping for 5 megawatts to be back on the market as what it termed “a stopgap measure to prevent workforce erosion and business impacts in the short term.”
“Consumer demand for solar energy has grown faster than TVA’s ability to adjust, therefore leaving the market underserved, restricting the investment of private capital and creating unnecessary uncertainty for businesses,” said Gil Hough, president of the Tennessee chapter in calling for a “fair and market driven” approach to solar energy development.

But there are market pressures TVA is taking into account that are also factors for those in the solar energy industry. TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said that, just because TVA has filled its capacity in Green Power Providers does not mean TVA is turning down any further solar generation.

“It just means we don’t have any more money for incentives this year. We still have plenty of capacity to buy solar power at market rates,” he said.

Mansfield noted that TVA recently signed agreements with Pickwick Electric Cooperative to develop the two largest solar energy installations in the state in Selmer. The two 20-megawatt solar farm projects will sell electricity to TVA at a market rate of 8 to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour instead of the 19 cents per kilowatt-hour that TVA pays through Green Power Providers.

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