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Staff File Photo/ The Electric Power Board began building its first solar facility, a 4.5-acre solar garden facing Holtzclaw Avenue, across from the Chattanooga Zoo, in 2016.

Chattanooga's municipal utility, which has relied upon the Tennessee Valley Authority for nearly all of its power since its creation in 1939, plans to begin buying some of its power from another wholesale supplier next year to help save more than $1 million on its annual power bill.

EPB directors approved Friday an agreement with EDF Renewables North America to get 15 megawatts of solar power generation from a pair of solar farms planned in north Hamilton County. EDF, which emerged as the winning bidder from among 11 solar power suppliers that initially responded to EPB's requests for proposals last year, plans to build an 8-megawatt solar array on about 49 acres and another 7-megawatt solar farm on a separate 45-acre parcel.

"It's absolutely wonderful that we can provide this green and low-cost source of power and we'll continue to look for even more solar options in the future," EPB President David Wade said Friday as utility directors considered EPB's budget for next year. "But this is possible because TVA continues to provide us the baseload and backup power to ensure our reliable service."

EPB is taking advantage of a new flexibility option TVA is providing its 153 local power companies to allow the municipalities and power co-ops that distribute TVA's power to get up to 5% of their electricity from other sources. In the current market, electricity produced by solar panels using the sun can be generated at a lower cost than TVA's average wholesale power rate, officials said.

"The total cost of what we will pay for the power based upon the projections of what these new facilities will produce will offset enough TVA power to help us save a little over $1 million on purchased power costs," said Ryan Keel, senior vice president of technical operations at EPB.

But such solar-generated power is available only when the sun shines. EPB projects it will pay EDF Renewable over $1.6 million a year for the 15 megawatts of electricity during daylight hours.

EDF Renewables, a subsidiary of the French utility EDF Group, specializes in solar, wind and other renewable energy production and will build the new solar farms to sell power to EPB under a 25-year contract approved on Friday. The solar farms planned by EDF Renewables are in addition to EPB's 1.35-megawatt Community Solar array that the utility erected five years ago adjacent to EPB's Distribution Center along North Holtzclaw Avenue.

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Staff Photo / Robert Cole takes a lunch break from working on EPB's Solar Share Farm located off of Holtzclaw Ave. on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

EPB's solar facility is dedicated for its Solar Share program, which customers may buy into to earn renewable energy credits and to support more solar power in the region.

Unlike EPB's solar panels, which are mounted on fixed structures, the new EDF solar farms will feature solar panels that adjust to capture the maximum sun throughout the day and typically generate about 30% more power as a result, Neel said.

The EDF solar farms will use about one-fifth of EPB's total power generation flexibility that TVA affords to local power companies under its wholesale power purchase contracts.

"This is a small but important step in our effort to keep costs lower for our customers," Wade said in an announcement of the new solar contract with EDF. "It also represents the opportunity to further reduce carbon emissions. In addition to helping keep our air cleaner, more and more companies are investing and creating jobs where they have the best access to electricity generated without carbon emissions."

EPB is one of 77 local power companies that have Generation Flexibility agreements with TVA. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said there are currently 40 active solar and energy storage projects underway under the flexibility agreements.

So far, three local power companies are already getting 12 megawatts of power under the flexible generation contracts and another 15 have been approved to add 133 megawatts of generation. Another 22 are still under development.

TVA also is moving more to solar generation on its own with 2,800 megawatts of solar generation already underway and plans for up to 10,000 megawatts of power generation from the sun by 2035.

Although solar power is often cheaper than other power production, TVA officials insist that other fossil fuel, nuclear power or power storage is still required to keep the lights on when the sun doesn't shine.

In addition to the utility-scale generation by TVA and the new EDF solar farms, EPB also helps individual customers utilize rooftop solar generation for some of their power with advice offered by EPB's Energy Pros.

EPB customers also can participate in Solar Share to gain ownership of a portion of EPB's solar farm at a cost of $3.50 a month per solar panel. More information is available about this program at epb.com/solarshare.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.

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