TVA is stunting the growth of solar power, advocates say

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Advocates claim the Tennessee Valley Authority is stunting the growth of solar power in the state at a time where it’s cheaper than ever for homeowners to switch to an environmentally friendly energy source.

The TVA’s Green Power Providers Program will no longer be an option for businesses and homeowners by the end of 2019.

Advocates say TVA was an early leader in the push towards renewable energy but they point to the termination of this program as one of many reasons why the state is falling behind.

A recent report by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy found that Tennessee’s current and projected solar capacity is less than half of its regional neighbors.

SACE Executive Director Dr. Stephen A. Smith went as far as to label the TVA “hostile to solar development.”

Jonesborough homeowner Mark Miller reached out to News Channel 11 after facing roadblocks with the Green Power Providers program.

Miller is in the process of installing a 17 thousand dollar solar power system that he hoped would save him money on his electric bill.

“It’s a logical step for the way the future is going so I wanted to get on it now,” he said.

Under the GPP, the TVA pays nearly 4 thousand business and homeowners like Miller per hour for the energy they produce.

The problem is the capacity the TVA approved is too low for the system Miller already purchased, he said.

“I won’t be able to install the full system for the foreseeable future unless the TVA has to change their rules or policies or gives me an expansion later,” Miller said.

Laura Duncan, the TVA’s renewable support manager, said they don’t allow homeowners to produce more than their average annual usage to keep costs down for other customers who don’t use solar.

Duncan said they pay program participants slightly less than the average retail price of this energy for the same reason.

She said the TVA doesn’t receive tax dollars or federal funding.

“Any program that we have that may have an incentive, that incentive would actually be paid by the ratepayers in the valley and we have a responsibility to ten million people,” Duncan said.

Yet energy advocates say this is one of many examples of the TVA tightening rules and reducing incentives for people to “do the right thing.”

“It’s ridiculous how tight they are,” said TenneSEIA Executive Director Gil Hough. “Homeowners should be able to have a little larger system if they want.”

Hough also criticized the termination of the GPP. “It surprised the industry, there was no warning,” he said. “We agree there are problems with the present program but we were hoping to fix those problems not just to say ‘oh screw it,’ which seems to be what TVA has done.”

Duncan said current program participants will keep their contracts for up to 20 years and those interested can still apply.

She said a replacement program is expected to be implemented in 2020.

Duncan didn’t share specifics about the program since they’re still having conversations with stakeholders but she said it could do away with incentives altogether.

She said the cost of solar has decreased by 70 percent over the last decade, mitigating the need for higher incentives.

“It’s time for a program that can be more flexible and that can evolve with the current renewable energy market,” she said.

Despite his criticism, Hough said that the future of solar in Tennessee is bright.

He pointed to the TVA’s 2019 Integrated Resource Plan, which outlines their strategic vision for the next 20 years.

Duncan said the plan identifies the expansion of solar power as a priority.

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