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2015: The year the TVA stepped backward on clean energy

Tony Casey • Updated Dec 17, 2015 at 5:59 AM

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision to cut back on the incentives it pays to its solar-friendly customers who put panels on their rooftops is troubling.

When they should be doing the exact opposite maneuver, for example, increasing the incentives for the people who strive to invest in non-fossil fuel energy, they’re taking a step backward in time, apparently more concerned with bottom lines than they are with the future of the planet we all share.

The TVA often talks about “its commitment to low-cost and cleaner energy,” but I think that balance has shifted to the former rather than the latter, abandoning a successful and forward-thinking program that’s existed for approximately 15 years. I’m unsure if it’s the age-old business tactic being used by this non-profit to claim they need to cut these incentives to keep its approximately 9 million customers’ bills lower, which often bodes well with many unbothered customers, or if some other reason is forcing them to revert.

One guess could be the pressure put on the TVA by Tennessee’s top elected officials. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, one of the nation’s biggest proponents of nuclear energy and, unfortunately, a member of the Senate energy and water subcommittee, applied some of this pressure earlier this year when he urged the TVA to “follow the lowest cost options for energy in the future as it prepares a power plan this year for the next 20 years,” according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It might be worth noting that according to opensecrets.org — a nonpartisan guide to money's influence on U.S. elections and public policy — from 2011-2016, Alexander received more than $440,000 from the energy and natural resources sector. Oddly, no contributions had been sent in Alexander’s direction from clean energy groups, though the poultry and eggs sector did toss Alexander $2,500.

The CEO of TVA, Bill Johnson, responded to critics of the TVA’s decreased focus on the small solar harborers for the bigger ones. He spoke about paying a premium to customers for solar power, which, he said, raises the TVA’s overall costs and pushes up the rates relayed to customers.

In a Nov. 20 article with the Associated Press, the TVA’s chief financial officer John Thomas acknowledged that the TVA is moving away from incentives. He spoke about how solar has reached a point where it no longer needs special incentives.

I’d argue that these incentives are more important than ever, given our need for alternative sources of energy in a time when manmade climate change threatens our long term existence.

According to www.solarenergy.com, solar energy systems are quick ways that people are putting extra value to their properties. In 2013 alone, more than 140,000 new solar systems were installed in the U.S., bringing the country’s total up to approximately 450,000 which operate each day. And these systems are more affordable and accessible to those who want to stop depending as much on fossil fuels. Since 2011, the cost of a single solar panel has decreased by more than 60 percent.

They’re quiet and require little to no maintenance, and are continuous sources of energy. Solar electric systems reduce pollution and CO2 emissions by using the Sun and cutting back on dependence of coal-fired electrical plants.

The TVA knows this and needs to continue down the path it’s been on for so long, worrying less about their bottom line and more about the future of energy and planet earth.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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