Five years ago, Chattanooga businessman Barney Danks spent nearly $2 million to develop and erect a pair of 200-kilowatt solar arrays near Tracy City and Rocky Face, Ga., to take advantage of one of TVA's first solar power purchase programs.
Athough TVA is cutting the premiums it previously paid for solar generation, Danks is still buiding more solar farms in the area. On Wednesday, he showed off a 750-kilowatt solar farm near Rossville, Ga., that cost about $1.5 million to build — and should produce nearly twice as much as his two earlier solar farms that cost even more to construct.
The new 6-acre Rossville solar farm erected on a former cattle farm along Glentanna Street includes a single axis tracker the adjusts the 2,356 solar panels throughout the day to capture maximum energy from the sun. By rotating the pitch of the elevated solar panels Danks expects that each panel will capture about 20 percent more power and in total the new farm should product more than 1.62 million kilowatthours a year.
"The cost of solar continues to go down and, to me, it just makes sense to try to use free fuel, if we can, and not use coal, gas or other fossil fuels that create climate change or take the risks of problems with nuclear power," said Danks, a retired certified public accountant.
Danks said he initially looked at putting solar panels on the roof of his home but quickly decided instead to try to make a business out of the venture by building solar farms and collecting the energy such an array can generate to sell back to TVA.
Through his firm, the Alicity Group, Danks signed an agreement with TVA for the Rossville solar project in 2014. But because of zoning, flooding and other concerns, the project took much longer than expected to complete. The solar panels are erected 11 feet off the ground on hundreds of metal poles to raise the panels above the floodplain.
TVA offered a richer power purchasing price at first to encourage more solar power but is phasing out its premium rates and now looks for the most cost-efficient energy source for the Valley.
TVA President Bill Johnson said Wednesday the agency doesn't want to use ratepayer dollars to subsidize higher cost energy.
"We expect power demand for the foreseeable future to be flat or declining so we don't need extra power generation," he said. "That said, we are always looking for the least cost option for power to supply our customers."
TVA has diversified its portfolio and has both built and bought solar power. But solar industry backers complained to the TVA board last week that rates paid for solar generation have declined from TVA and the Solar Solutions and Green Power programs are not as attractive as in the past for solar power producers.
Solar energy producers would like the freedom to sell the power they generate to anyone, not just TVA. But Johnson said having a single, integrated power network is more efficient and less expensive than having multiple power generators selling power to individuals or businesses while TVA still has to maintain the wiring connections and other support network to deliver power when others do not.
"Once built, these solar projects are very low risk and have relatively low return," said Danks, noting that a California investment group, Blue Planet Investments, bought the Rossville solar farm he built and operates.
Beyond the 20-year contracts Danks has signed with TVA to sell solar-generated power at his three solar farms, such power generation could continue to generate low-cost power for decades after the capital investment is paid off and the TVA contract is over, Danks said — if he can find the customers.
The new Rossville solar farm is expected to generate enough power for about 125 homes.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.