A Bright, Sunny Forecast for the Tennessee Valley

One of the newest 1 MW projects under TVA Solar Solutions Initiative, Powerhouse Six project provides brownfield reuse/redevelopment on U.S. Department of Energy property at the former K-25 uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge, TN.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is farsighted, not shortsighted, when it comes to its efforts to evaluate and plan for solar power in its future. The 2015 Draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) provides the clearest, sharpest look ever by a Southeastern utility at solar energy as a resource – and not a threat – to this amazing, clean energy opportunity.

According to the  Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), there are 2,200 people employed in the solar industry in the state of Tennessee and 140 MW of solar installed as of the end of 2014.  This pales in comparison to neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina, which are each projected to have almost 1,000 MW by the end of next year. But  TVA’s Draft IRP indicates that it will join the rapid ramp-up in the development of solar. The Draft IRP suggests TVA will probably seek around 2,000 MW of solar in the next decade, positioning TVA to become a regional leader in solar development.

Some people might question whether TVA can really build 2,000 MW of solar power facilities, which would be roughly equal to the amount of solar installed nationwide in just one year – 2014. As the nation’s largest public utility, TVA should be aspiring to a large share of the national solar development market.

Solar’s future shines even brighter than the Draft IRP suggests, for good reasons. First of all, because TVA happens to have the best solar resource in the Southeast. Secondly, because in spite of the overall reasonable view of solar power, TVA’s planning staff continue to have a blind spot – skeptically overlooking recent low-cost solar deals and dismissing the broad market for low-cost solar power as an anomaly.

What’s next for TVA? Putting this solar vision into practice. From our perspective, this will involve three steps:

  • For large, “utility-scale” projects greater than 20 MW in size, TVA needs to develop a standard offer with incentives for the “right” solar. TVA should be offering incentives for development in the western portion of its service territory, where solar resources contribute most effectively to peak load. TVA also needs to deepen studies of its transmission system, to identify sites where those projects can be most effective in supporting its grid, and to proactively build out its grid to support a more distributed generation system.
  • For medium scale projects, either smaller “utility-scale” standalone projects, or sited at large commercial sites, TVA needs to work with its local power companies. Local distribution systems vary, and TVA needs to collaborate with solar interests and local power companies to design appropriate financial products and siting guidance. Some sites are better, and some sites will cause havoc for local distribution grids. These problems are best avoided if TVA and its local power companies take the initiative.
  • For rooftop solar projects, TVA needs to create a fair policy for customers who want to make the choice to install solar and self-supply their own electricity. There are considerable benefits to rooftop solar, and TVA needs to ensure that it is providing the proper incentives and guidance to customers so that all TVA customers benefit from the value of solar.

TVA is well positioned to move forward on solar power with this IRP because it has effectively engaged a wide range of stakeholders, and listened carefully to the input and advice they have offered. While some have sought to disrupt that dialogue, we believe TVA is best served when it engages those who understand the resource, and then makes responsible decisions on behalf of all its customers and its broader mission.

Want to learn more about solar in TVA? Read on …

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Southeast Utility-Scale Solar: Cost-Effective for Customers

GTM/SEIA reported prices as low as $1,400/kW-dc for fixed-tilt utility-scale systems at the end of 2014, reflecting “strong competition of new markets with low labor pricing, such as those in the Southeast U.S.”

The Southeast is seeing a growing trend towards major utility-scale solar PPAs in the past few years. These deals are great for customers, because the prices are so low that they are helping utilities lock in cost savings over the long term. They are great for the utilities, because solar power is a reliable source of on-peak power. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the deals we think point to a rapidly emerging trend.

Duke Energy Renewables entered into a 20-year PPA with three academic and medical institutions in Washington, DC for the 52 MW Capital Partners Solar project located near Elizabeth City, NC. The price has not been disclosed, but it is represented to be “below what they are paying for brown power” and that “solar beat wind in terms of final delivered cost to the customers.”

Tennessee Valley Authority entered into a 20-year contract with NextEra Energy Resources for an 80 MW solar facility in northern Alabama for a reported 6.1 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Gulf Power Company entered into 25-year contracts with HelioSage, LLC for three solar facilities with a total capacity of 120 MW located at northwest Florida military bases. The prices have not been disclosed, but “are projected to produce savings between $2.8 and $17.4 million.”

Georgia Power Company entered into five 30-year contracts, one 25-year contract, and four 20-year contracts for solar facilities with a total capacity of 515 MW. The prices have not been disclosed, but “the ASI winning bids were procured at an average cost of less than 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.”

Georgia Power deserves particular commendation for the effectiveness of its RFP process. The RFP process was the result of a Georgia Public Service Commission order that occurred at the end of an effective campaign led by Georgia’s solar industry.

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Duke fines for coal ash pile up, but the ash piles don’t shrink

Duke Energy is under a lot of pressure these days. Coal ash has become a serious financial and public relations liability for the corporation, yet so far, the nation’s largest utility isn’t planning to adequately clean up its mess across the Southeast. The impacts of coal ash on communities and waterways continue, and the price of business as usual is increasing – but it doesn’t seem to be enough so far to drive necessary action.

This week, North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced that it detected toxics in private wells near 7 of Duke’s coal-fired power plants. DENR required testing of private wells in proximity to the plants under a state law passed in response to the disastrous Dan River spill in 2014. These testing results have already become a national story and reinforce the case for Duke to remove its coal ash to dry, lined storage away from waterways, but Duke still isn’t getting the message.

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Wind Powers Jobs in Alabama

This map shows some of the areas with wind resources suited for development with newer, taller turbines. Source: Adapted from NREL's 110 meter hub height wind speed map for areas achieving 35% capacity factors or greater (November, 2014)

This post is the eighth in a blog series discussing state-by-state highlights of wind energy throughout the South in the lead up to the WINDPOWER Expo in Orlando, FL, May 18 – 21. See the rest of the series here.

New wind turbine technology is a game changer for clean energy opportunities in Alabama. Taller turbines and longer blades are capable of capturing more wind, which results in generating more electricity and reducing costs. In just five years, wind turbines have greatly evolved and are now more suitable for the Southeast. One modern wind turbine can now power the equivalent of about 600 homes a year!

New wind speed maps released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) demonstrate the greatly increased potential for wind turbine development in Alabama with advanced turbines. As wind turbines increase in height and are able to access better wind speeds, more areas become attractive for wind energy development within Tennessee. The shading on the map to the right represents new available land for wind development with modern turbines with towers of 360 feet (110 meters) achieving a 35% capacity factor or greater. With these new wind turbines, 16,000 megawatts (MW) of land-based wind potential currently exist in Alabama. Developing just 1,000 MW of wind power in Alabama (just one-sixteenth of Alabama’s potential) could provide enough power for 255,000 homes a year!

Based on the Jobs and Economic Development Index model, developed by NREL, developing one gigawatt worth of wind energy capacity in Alabama could support approximately 130 ongoing operation jobs with a total annual payroll of $6.6 million.

Although Alabama has yet to develop a wind farm, the state is already benefitting from the wind industry. In 2012, Alabama Power announced the purchase of 404 megawatts (MW) of wind energy from Oklahoma—enough to power the equivalent of 115,000 homes a year.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, Alabama is home to at least 9 wind energy-related manufacturing facilities serving the domestic and international wind industry markets. In 2013, there were between 101 and 500 direct and indirect jobs provided by the wind industry in Alabama. Developing land-based wind in the state could greatly add to local economic benefits and create more wind energy-related jobs. A few of the wind energy-related manufacturing facilities in Alabama include: Read more…

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An Earth Day Action That Matters

It is of enormous significance that President Barack Obama is coming to Florida for Earth Day. He can go anywhere in the county, or world, and yet he chooses to come here and underscore the biggest challenge facing the US and the world. On Wednesday, he will visit a Florida icon – the proverbial ‘canary in the coalmine’ of climate change, Everglades National Park – to speak about how global warming threatens the U.S. economy.

In his weekly radio address last weekend, the President stated, “There’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change.”

He went on to stress that, “The effects of climate change can no longer be denied or ignored – 2014 was the planet’s warmest year recorded, and 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have happened this century. Climate change poses risks to our national security, our economy, and our public health.”

What the President is simply saying is that we are all paying for it.

The Everglades ecosystem is vital to the millions of people living in Florida given the barrier it creates between fresh and salt water. Everglades defender and advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who I had the distinct pleasure of meeting in 1988, coined it “The River of Grass.” Read more…

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Could States Benefit From Revenue Sharing in the Atlantic?

To commemorate the 5th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and in the lead up to Hands Across the Sand on May 16, SACE is publishing a blog series highlighting some of the issues that Atlantic coastal communities may face in the process of the U.S. Department of Interior’s misguided attempt to open the Atlantic to offshore drilling. This is the first post of the series.

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Proponents of offshore drilling in the Atlantic will often mention the large economic opportunity offered by revenue sharing–or a portion of the money oil companies pay to the federal government to lease the offshore production areas. In fact, revenue sharing is a key part of the economic equation that suggests how offshore drilling may appear to be worthwhile. The gigantic flaws with this argument are that revenue sharing does not exist for the Atlantic (it exists primarily in the Gulf states); it would not exist for the Atlantic without an act of Congress; and even if it were to be established by Congress for the Atlantic, it would likely only recoup losses of natural resource lost to oil & gas extraction, not necessarily generate net economic benefits, if it were modeled off of revenue sharing for the Gulf. Let’s dig into each of these points to see more about the truth about revenue sharing in the Atlantic. Read more…

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Is TVA Undervaluing Wind Energy?

The Department of Energy Wind Vision Report projects Tennessee could economically develop 1,310 megawatts of wind power by 2030. TVA's Draft IRP suggests the number is 0.

Much of the country is currently experiencing a “wind rush” – 23,000 new jobs were created in the wind industry just last year. Wind power’s low price is driving utilities to snap up gigawatts of wind energy.

But for TVA, it seems like the winds may be a bit stagnant.

As our executive director Stephen Smith discussed recently, TVA’s Draft 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) “continues to view clean energy through a blurred lens.” The exercise depends on inputs (such as cost and performance data for various power plant types, including wind farms) to develop outputs and recommendations. Some of TVA’s most important assumptions for the cost and performance of wind power aren’t just blurred – they are fairly opaque.

So even though wind power is plentiful and arguably the cheapest energy supply resource available, TVA’s customers should be outraged that the utility’s Draft IRP suggests that the nation’s largest public utility is not only failing to take a clear look at wind power, it could even roll back its recent wind acquisitions and eliminate wind power in its energy portfolio by the year 2033.

TVA’s Draft IRP stands in stark contrast to current industry trends.  Prices from different parts of the country now range in the $30-$40 per megawatt hour (MWh) range. Utility companies all across the south are snapping up wind power contracts left and right because wind power is so cost effective.

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Separating PACE’s Fiction from the Facts on Solar Power

The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) is the public face of a complex network of firms employed by fossil fuel and monopoly utility interests. The organization recently disseminated talking points on solar power to Florida legislators – in particular about the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative that would allow more access to solar power for Florida’s families and businesses.

Its talking points were filled with inaccurate and misleading statements – and parroting talking points of the utility industry about solar impacts. PACE’s attack on solar power undermines efforts to hold an open and honest discussion on how clean renewable energy, like solar power, can benefit Florida’s consumers. So, let’s start by separating PACE’s fiction from the facts on solar power.

Fiction:  The solar ballot initiative would create an unlevel playing field for solar power.

Fact: Florida is only one of five states that expressly prohibit  the sale of power by any entity other than a power company. The ballot initiative, if passed, will expand solar choice by allowing all customers the option to power their homes or businesses with solar power and the choice of who provides it to them – by allowing third party power purchase agreements (PPA). Read more…

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Exposing Corporate Pawns: PACE

One important service we try to provide to our members, supporters, and the news media that follow clean energy issues in our region is information on who is trying to move our country forward on energy policy and who is being paid to hold us back. Many monopoly utilities and fossil fuel companies have large financial interests in blocking the progress of cleaner energy sources and will go to great links to mislead citizens, much the same way tobacco interests mislead people about the dangers of cigarettes. In the coming months we will attempt to document some of these corporate pawns who are masquerading as protectors of consumer interest.

The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) is the public face of a complex network of public relations firms employed by fossil fuel and utility interests, and front groups with a history of pretending to support the interests of consumers. In particular, they have purported to represent African Americans, yet they do not support policies that serve those communities. PACE has been active in Alabama for several years, and recently branched out into Florida, where its newest employee Abigail McIver (formerly of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity) has been passing out anti-solar literature to legislators. Read more…

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The Palmetto State Stands Tall in the Wind Energy Industry

South Carolina Onshore Wind Resources

This map shows some of the areas with wind resources suited for development with newer, taller turbines. Source: Adapted from NREL's 110 meter hub height wind speed map for areas achieving 35% capacity factors or greater (November, 2014).

This is the seventh post in a blog series discussing state-by-state highlights of wind energy throughout the South in the lead up to the WINDPOWER Expo in Orlando, FL, May 18 – 21. See the rest of the series here.

New wind turbine technology is a game changer for clean energy opportunities in South Carolina. Taller turbines and longer blades are capable of capturing more wind, which results in generating more electricity and reducing costs. In just five years, wind turbines have greatly evolved and are now more suitable for the Southeast. One modern wind turbine can now power the equivalent of about 600 homes a year!

New wind speed maps released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) demonstrate the greatly increased potential for wind turbine development in South Carolina with advanced turbines. As wind turbines increase in height and are able to access better wind speeds, more areas become attractive for wind energy development within South Carolina. The shading on the map above represents newly available land for wind development with modern turbines with towers of 360 feet (110 meters) achieving a 35% capacity factor or greater. With these new wind turbines, over 10,000 megawatts (MW) of land-based wind potential currently exist in South Carolina. Developing just one gigawatt of wind energy capacity (1,000 MW) in South Carolina (just 10% of the state’s onshore potential) could power more than 255,500 homes a year!

Read more…

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