Solar is looking 'bright' for the Tennessee Valley Authority

Robert Houk • Aug 26, 2018 at 12:16 AM

Tennessee Valley Authority officials say renewable energy is an important part of the public utility’s long-term business plan. Solar power, in particular, is becoming a major part of TVA’s sustainable energy strategy.

“The outlook for solar in the valley is looking very bright,” Tammy Bramlett, TVA’s director of business development and renewables, said last week. “The cost of solar is coming down, and it’s a big part of our portfolio going forward.”

Bramlett said solar projects like the public/private partnership it and BrightRidge have entered into with the Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corp. in Washington County is an example of both the future of TVA and its efforts to fulfill its mission of providing affordable energy, environmental stewardship and economic development to the Tennessee Valley region.

“Renewables bring down our carbon footprint and help in economic recruitment,” she said. “Businesses are knocking on our door wanting low-cost energy from renewable sources.”

TVA officials said the utility has made increasing its use of renewables for energy production and reducing its carbon footprint top priorities since 2005. Bramlett said the federal utility expects to cut its reliance on fossil fuels by 60 percent in 2020. She said that figure has already been reduced by 55 percent as a result of shutting down many of TVA’s coal-fired power plants.

And she said the use of coal will not be returning to TVA’s business plan.

“We’ve retired 4,000 megawatts of coal,” Bramlett said.”Our 20-year outlook shows our load is not growing as a result of more efficient technologies and the reduction of waste. We are adding renewables because that is what our customers are asking for them.”

Even so, TVA is not moving as fast on the green energy front as some would like.

Officials with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy issued a news release after TVA’s board meeting last week accusing the utility of making “unsubstantiated promises of investment in renewable energy.”

Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the organization, said in an emailed statement: “We ask that TVA renew its commitment to reducing energy burdens, promoting clean energy, transparency and protecting customer rights.”

Bramlett said she and other TVA officials have been “very focused” on reducing the utility’s use of carbon fuel. She said 7,400 megawatts of the power it produces today comes from renewables, with solar representing 20 percent of that number. She said hydroelectric, which was TVA’s first green power source, today accounts for 9 percent of its generation.

“We have made great progress,” she said. “Ten years ago there were 30 solar arrays in the Tennessee Valley producing power. Now, we have 3,500 solar installations.”

From a cost and reliability standpoint, Bramlett said solar has become a preferred renewable among TVA’s business and residential customers. Unlike wind power, which she said is more conducive to expansive areas like the plains and Western states, solar farms are more suitable for the confined terrain of the Tennessee Valley. She said 1.4 million consumers in the TVA’s coverage area have access to solar energy from sources such as residential solar panels, the TVA’s Green Power Switch program and local power providers like BrightRidge.

Before signing up for a renewable source, Bramlett said it is important for businesses and homeowners to make sure they are doing everything possible now to reduce energy waste. That includes installing energy efficient technology whenever possible.

“TVA is not just in the business of selling power,” Bramlett said.

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