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For the first time since it was created 80 years ago, EPB plans to generate its own power.

The city-owned utility is looking to the sun to power a new community-based solar farm that is projected to generate enough power for about 125 homes.

EPB directors Friday approved a partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority to launch Solar Share, a pilot program to construct 1.35 megawatts of solar generation to be distributed to a number of homes from a solar farm likely to be built on one of EPB's service lots.

EPB is still working out the details of how solar enthusiasts might support the new venture. But the municipal utility is already asking those interested in buying solar-generated power for their homes to contact EPB at (423) 648-1372 to be added to the contact list for future updates. EPB has also developed a logo to market Solar Share and EPB Vice President J. Ed. Marston said program organizers are looking at locating a 4.5-acre solar garden or solar farm on one of its lots off of Holtzclaw Avenue.

"Our community is already benefiting from having the most advanced Smart Grid in the United States," EPB President Harold DePriest said Friday in announcing the new initiative. "Thanks to our partnership with TVA, Solar Share will give our area the opportunity to benefit from a community-based, renewable source of energy."

EPB and Appalachian Electric Cooperative in New Market, Tenn., are the two TVA power distributors that have contracted this year to participate in TVA's community solar initiative for as local power companies.

Neil Placer, a senior manager of renewable energy solutions for TVA, said EPB may structure the arrangement with those interested in getting the solar-generated power in a number of different ways, including premium voluntary payments like under the Green Switch program or purchases of solar credits or shares from EPB.

EPB will own and operate the solar farm, which may be better sited and operate more easily than for individual homeowners to try to place as many solar panels on their own rooftops or yards. Placer said about a fourth of all homes aren't suited for solar generation because they are shaded are facing in the wrong direction to capture the sun's rays and energy on photo-voltaic panels.

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EPB is planning to build a community-based solar farm to generate 1.35 megawatts of solar power.

Because community solar projects like Solar Share operate as a shared resource, they are more cost effective than home-based deployments. Community solar projects also negate many of the financial and physical barriers individual homeowners may face such as upfront costs or having rooftop areas unsuitable for solar panels.

Individuals and businesses now have solar panels in Chattanooga and generate power that is sold back to EPB and the power grid. But the proposed EPB Solar Share initiative would be the first to generate solar power through a shared community arrangement.

Placer said his team has been working with EPB to structure Solar Share in a way that engages the community.

"With EPB, we've developed an innovative approach to community solar generation that gives local people multiple ways to participate," he said.

Duck River Electric Membership Coop in Middle Tennessee became the first distributor in the TVA system to construct a solar farm for community-based solar in 2012 to qualify for TVA's Generation Partners Program.

The 25.92-kilowatt solar farm at the coop's headquarters in Columbia, Tenn., generates renewable power that is sold to interested investors for $600 per unit of limited partnership interest, equivalent to what was generated by a half panel on each of the 108 solar panels.

TVA requires its distributors to buy all of their power from TVA, but the community solar plans give the distributors the option of allowing a group of customers to join together and share in the solar-generated power from a solar farm owned by a distributor selling power to TVA under a purchased power agreement.

EPB said if its initial community solar project draws enough community participation, it could be the first of many community-based solar deployments.

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

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