Solar firm, environmental groups accuse TVA of half-hearted solar support

Representatives of the Sierra Club, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), and a company called Lightwave Solar criticized Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on Nov. 20, saying the federal utility is offering only tepid support for solar energy in the territory served by TVA.

The comments were made during TVA’s public listening session at the quarterly board of directors meeting, held this month in Bowling Green, Ky.

Lightwave Solar President Steve Johnson said TVA is decreasing its near-term solar target from 130 MW to 20 MW. “That’s a huge drop,” Johnson said. The solar developer noted that TVA board members are nominated by the president and President Obama is a big supporter of solar.

Lightwave’s Johnson said it appeared that TVA was being tightfisted with solar while spending extensively on environmental controls for old coal plants. “The less expensive solar becomes, the more TVA fights it,” said the solar firm official.

Criticism of TVA’s solar approach were also voiced by Amanda Garcia of SELC and Thomas Pearce of the Sierra Club. Pearce also said that TVA needs to move ahead from coal at Shawnee plant, which he said is no longer needed for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion plant. The Paducah plant enriched uranium for nuclear fuel used in nuclear power reactors.

“I am disappointed that you have decided to sink millions of dollars in the Shawnee generating station. The plant is obsolete,” Pearce said.

When contacted by GenerationHub, a TVA spokesperson said TVA is not reducing its solar program. There are more than 1,600 solar projects in the valley, he said.

“TVA is following through with its plan announced in 2009 to phase out certain incentives for solar so that it is treated more as a competitive generating source,” the TVA spokesperson said. “The change in the megawatt number cited is due mostly to the elimination of the 100 MW cap on our large solar projects. Now any large solar program can apply as a competitive project without the constraints previously in the Renewable Standard Offer,” the spokesperson said.

“Also remember that anyone can install solar on their property at any time. If they want to be part of a TVA program and connect to the grid, we will purchase the power at a competitive rate,” the TVA spokesperson said in the email.

Russellville Electric official Robert White said during the public session that he wanted to give a local power company perspective on solar. There have been hundreds of megawatts of renewable energy added to TVA region in past decade, White said.

While TVA renewable adoption rates have been less than national average, TVA also has lower power costs, White said. “We envision a gradual transition to mid-sized projects,” with local utilities that work with TVA having a key role, White said.

During his opening remarks at the official part of the board meeting, TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson said the utility has spent more than $1bn on solar energy and continues to invest in renewable energy. TVA has also slashed its sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions in recent years.

TVA resource planning decisions are driven by energy, environmental and economic development implications, Johnson said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.