A new long-range power plan the Tennessee Valley Authority board will vote on next month envisions the federal utility adding as much as 14 gigawatts of additional solar generation by 2040, which would be more than 25 times the amount of solar generation now in the Valley.
But TVA plans to keep its all-purchase requirements with the 155 municipalities and power coops that distribute TVA power, meaning TVA will continue to control both the generation and distribution of all electricity within its 7-state region. Some environmental groups complain that TVA is discouraging small-scale solar generation by reducing the premium rates it once paid for such power and by continuing to limit how solar and other power can be bought and sold.
"This integrated resource plan is a missed opportunity," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy which has criticized TVA for trailing other states in solar generation. "This IRP reflects a mission to hold on to a 20th century business model that ignores new technologies."
TVA President Jeff Lyash, who joined TVA this spring, said the utility expects to cut its carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 60% by 2020 and by 70% by 2030 by replacing aging coal plants with more nuclear, solar, purchased wind and more efficient natural gas plants, backed up by more battery storage.
"Going forward, we have to leverage the technologies we have and support the development of storage technologies to support the further development of solar sources and demand-side resources," Lyash said last month in a meeting with the Regional Resource Council in Chattanooga.
TVA has solicited proposals this year from the nation's top renewable energy developers to develop 200 megawatts of renewable energy that can be brought online by the end of 2022.
In a similar appeal for renewable power TVA made in 2017, the utility ultimately agreed to buy 675 megawatts of solar power being developed to supply renewable power for Google data centers being built on abandoned TVA power plants in Alabama and Tennessee and Facebook investments elsewhere in TVA's seven-state region. The Silicon Valley tech giants have pledged to buy all renewable power in the future and TVA expects other energy users coming into the Valley to want similar carbon-free power sources in the future.
TVA also is building two new solar farms of its own to boost its total solar generation to more than 1,000 megawatts.
But even with the additions, TVA lags other Southern utilities in North Carolina and Georgia and is only a fraction of the solar generation in states like California.
"Even though TVA is moving in a smarter economic and environmental direction, its planning vision still relies too heavily on risky gas, and comes up short on energy efficiency, which lowers people's bills and reduces the air and water pollution caused by burning fossil fuels," said Al Armendariz of the Sierra Club. "Adopting renewable energy, especially solar and battery storage, is consistent with a least-cost approach for keeping electricity prices low. One gigawatt of solar can power more than 100,000 homes."