Solar advocates are accusing the Tennessee Valley Authority of deliberately mismanaging and slowing its solar program.
Business and environmental groups involved with the coalition Tennesseans for Solar Choice are pointing to low quarterly growth to claim the agency is making it clear its solar program is mismanaged, has stalled or is completely broken. However, TVA leaders say renewable energy is a top priority for the state's biggest power producer, and they believe the solar program will continue to grow in 2018 and beyond.
Fewer than 2 megawatts of solar power were added to the grid in Tennessee in the first quarter, with year-to-date applications for residential and small business solar down 73 perfect from 2017, according to GreenTech Media research. Contracts for large-scale solar projects environmental groups believed were going to be released in the first quarter still have not been, and coalition members believe TVA is missing growth opportunity for the state as more businesses and individuals look to areas with viable renewables.
"I've been working on TVA issues for a long, long time," Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Executive Director Stephen Smith said. "This is an honest statement. I've never seen their approach to renewable energy as bad as it is right now."
TVA has three solar programs: Green Power Providers for residential use and small businesses, Distributed Solar Solutions for community solar with local power companies, and large-scale solar installation through a request for proposals process. Smith believes TVA will fail to reach previous growth numbers in all three sectors. TVA leaders are not enthusiastic about the GPP program, he said. He thinks they feel like they're overpaying individuals for solar power. He also said TVA is lagging in DSS production because of contract negotiations with local power companies and will fail to meet previous production numbers for new large-scale projects.
However, Tammy Bramlett, TVA's director of business development and renewables, disagrees. The quarterly numbers in the report don't reflect annual projections, which show TVA expects to see growth year-over-year by the end of 2018, she said. TVA has contracts to add another 90 megawatts by the end of the calendar year and 149 megawatts by the end of 2019, she said. The agency also hasn't announced requests for proposals that could add substantial solar production later.
"We actually anticipate more solar coming in over the next few years than we've ever had," Bramlett said. "We are very proactively working with our local power companies. There is a big drive from the commercial and industrial market, which is pretty exciting, to commit to become renewable."
TVA's push toward renewable energy involves more than just solar energy. The agency has a years-long initiative to reduce its carbon footprint. TVA produces hydroelectric power, wind and biomass energy in addition to solar. Internal projections show TVA is on pace to decrease its carbon emissions by 75 percent before 2020, according to agency spokesman Scott Fiedler. It also projects to have a 55 percent carbon-free power supply by the same year.
TVA and Tennesseans for Solar Choice have similar end goals, according to Fiedler. Everyone involved wants to see fewer carbon emissions and more sustained energy production, he said. It's a matter of how they get there. TVA has placed an emphasis on an array of clean energy, while Smith and the Tennesseans for Solar Choice believe solar energy is the most viable solution for the clean energy needs in the Tennessee Valley.
"Solar is just so cheap now. It can actually compete with natural gas and coal," Smith said. "It is being built in the valley by people, so the jobs stay in the valley and money stays in the valley. We're bullish on solar because of the price points. It's what people want and it lines up with with the energy needs of TVA."