EPB launches solar power sharing program

Customers can buy into solar farm in three ways

EPB president David Wade, TVA Director of Business Development and Renewables Tammy Bramlett, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson stand in front of new solar generation facility at Oak and Greenwood in Chattanooga.
EPB president David Wade, TVA Director of Business Development and Renewables Tammy Bramlett, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson stand in front of new solar generation facility at Oak and Greenwood in Chattanooga.

For the first time in its 77-year history, EPB is offering its consumers a chance to buy into part of a new source of clean electricity generation.

The city-owned utility is selling or leasing shares of its new solar farm built on a former salvage yard EPB cleared near its distribution center at Oak Street and Greenwood Avenue. Aided by a $1.1 million grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority, EPB developed the solar array to give its 170,000 electric customers the chance to buy into solar power and reap the benefits from renewable power.

Such distributed power marks the first time EPB and its power supplier, the Tennessee Valley Authority, is giving customers the chance to own part of the generating assets for their power supply. David Wade, president and CEO of EPB, said hundreds of consumers have already expressed interest in buying or leasing the solar panels to help support more green power generation.

Buying into solar

EPB customers wanted to get a piece of the solar generation will have three options:* 20-Year License: For a one-time payment of $680 per panel, plus annual maintenance fee of $10, a customer will get a monthly bill credit equal to the amount of power generated by your selected number of panels. In its mailing to interested customers, EPB says this option “provides the generation benefits of installing roof-top solar but without the construction project.”* Month-to-Month License: For $5 per panel with no contracts or long-term commitments, a customer’s bill will be credited with the amount of power generated by the licensed panel. EPB says this is “an affordable way to participate in solar generation that provides the generation benefits of licensing a solar panel.”* Energy Offsets: For $5 per 100 kWh per month, customers may offset their carbon footprint with locally generated renewable energy, helping to make an event or room green.More information is available at www.epb.com/solarshare and call to sign up at (423) 648-1372.

"Folks care more today, not just about getting their power, but about knowing where it comes from," Wade said "This project provides our customers accessibility to local, renewable energy and gives the option of solar power to those who might rent their homes or live in houses where it is not feasible to put up their own solar panels."

Similar to the growing interest in organic food by consumers wanting to know the source of what they eat, more and more electricity users are wanting to know that the power they get comes from clean and renewable sources, Wade said.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Chattanoogans know better than most Americans the value of investing in cleaning up the environment.

A half century ago, Chattanooga had the dirtiest air of any major city in America, but today the city is in full attainment of federal pollution regulations and continues to capitalize on its outdoor and scenic attractions with a tourism industry that exceeds $1 billion a year in revenues.

"We know we are living in a world of climate change where if we don't do something about our emissions we're not going to leave the right legacy for our kids and grand kids," Berke said. "We in Chattanooga know this lesson better than most places because we were once called the dirtiest city in America. So we have to find creative solutions like this project here to meet this challenge."

For now, buying into the solar generation may be more environmentally green and clean than it is financially green and profitable. The typical solar panel is expected to generate about 450 kilowatthours of electricity a year, which at EPB's current price of 10.3 cents per kilowatthour for residential power is worth about $46.34 a year. That's well below the $60 annual leasing charge and would require nearly 20 years to pay off the solar panel purchase cost, including the annual maintenance fee.

But as power rates rise over time and the solar panels keep generating more power, the investment could pay dividends for those in the solar share program, both for the environment and their pocketbooks. Buying into the solar project also provides carbon credits for many businesses and individuals trying to limit their carbon footprint.

EPB's 4-acre solar farm along Holtzclaw Avenue is on a visible parcel to showcase solar generation on a site that previously was used to store EPB equipment and transformers, Wade said. The 1.3 megawatt farm is capable of supplying the power needs for about 130 homes and will cut annual carbon emissions by 940 tons a year.

If demand warrants, EPB could build other solar farms elsewhere.

"Once we sell this out, I think it is very likely that we would build additional capacity to provide this option to our community," Wade said.

The Chattanooga project is one of two solar share projects TVA funded this year and among a half dozen such pilot projects under way across the Tennessee Valley by local power companies that distribute TVA power.

Tammy Bramlett, TVA's director of business development and renewables, said the solar share program is part of TVA's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint by 60 percent by 2020 from the peak levels reached a generation ago.

"Right now, we're helping to fund these pilot programs to help us understand the demand in the Tennessee Valley and how to serve this load across the region," Bramlett said. "If this enables us to figure out a good model for what works in the Chattanooga community, we hope to be able to replicate this across the Valley."

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said the project reflects how helpful that public power and the federal government's biggest research lab at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory are for Chattanooga.

"I am an unabashed supporter of TVA and a big fan of EPB," Fleischmann said. "What we're seeing today with this solar event are the benefits of all of the assets of the greatest national lab in the country. Oak Ridge National Lab continues to be a great partner with EPB."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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