TVA solar energy limits don't keep up with demand

TVA solar energy limits don't keep up with demand

Posted:
The Tennessee Valley Authority passed a $10.5 billion annual operating budget Thursday which includes a $25 million investment to buy solar energy. The Tennessee Valley Authority passed a $10.5 billion annual operating budget Thursday which includes a $25 million investment to buy solar energy.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The Tennessee Valley Authority passed a $10.5 billion annual operating budget Thursday which includes a $25 million investment to buy solar energy.

A number of people working and representing the solar industry are concerned the utility isn't doing enough to help region's solar industry. 

Several dozen solar business owners and industry representatives told TVA board members Thursday the utility isn't meeting the growing demand from small businesses wanting to install solar power. 

Nationwide, solar energy is a $77 billion dollar industry and growing, but it may be growing too fast.

"TVA kind of moves slowly. We're just asking TVA to move quickly on this issue," said Gill Hough, president of the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association. 

Mary Shaffer-Gill is the owner of Aries Energy in Knoxville. Her company installs solar arrays for projects, including an array for the elephant preserve at the Knoxville Zoo.

Lately, Gill has been selling solar power outside the TVA power grid, if she's selling any at all.

"We are using our electrical skills, our labor to do other work, to do electrical work, to do lighting, to do other energy efficiency improvements just to make payroll," Gill said

Industry members point to the Green Power program launched by TVA on August 1. The program made 2.5 megawatts of solar space available to local power companies.

All 2.5 megawatts were absorbed by three solar providers in the state in only 60 seconds.

Currently, small businesses owners say they are unable to connect to the power grid to supply solar power.

"If a homeowner, or business wants to put solar on their facility, they say well we can't, you're not allowed to connect, you're not allowed to put the electrical equipment on your roof," said Gill Hough.

TVA president and CEO Bill Johnson even admitted the program had its problems.

"I understand the difficulty in terms of the program for the solar folks. I think we need to fix that," said Johnson.

The utility points out smaller scale operations are more expensive to supply with solar power.

TVA has several ongoing construction projects which are set to double the amount of solar power produced in the state.

Cost remains an issue, as solar is nearly three times higher than TVA's standard power rate.

"The key is low cost, so we want to continue to encourage solar to come in. We think it's important, but it's got to come in at competitive prices," said Joe Hoagland, TVA senior vice president of Policy and Oversight.

To do that, TVA says solar power has to become more available on any larger scale.

TVA is working to develop two of the largest projects in the Tennessee Valley with two 20 megawatt solar farms in West Tennessee. They could provide enough electricity for 4,000 valley homes for a year.

TVA is planning to expand solar availability through a program set to begin next year.

TVA has 124 megawatts of solar capacity in operation or committed for construction as of July 31.

Tennessee is ranked seventh in the nation in total solar capacity, according to a national solar industry association.

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