Clean Energy Advocates: Shadow Cast on Growth of Solar in TN

Tennessee consumers wishing to go solar have less incentive to, based on lower TVA buy-back rates for the power they generate. (Henri Sivonen/flickr)

ANTIOCH, Tenn. – Harvesting energy from the sun is big business in many parts of the country, including neighboring states North Carolina and Georgia.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar has seen an average growth rate of 68 percent annually over the last 10 years.

But that growth is stifled in Tennessee, according to industry insiders, largely because of policy changes that make it less advantageous for small scale and residential projects to proceed.

Brian Bickel, director of sales and marketing for LightWave Solar in Antioch, says a recent reduction in solar buy-back rates to residential consumers is a big consideration for people.

"That is affecting homeowners’ decisions to go solar,” he states. “It’s certainly not impacting the interest in going solar.

“We get calls every day from folks that are interested in solar, but the return proposition for them to do it is becoming less and less attractive."

Specifically, the Tennessee Valley Authority has lowered the rate it pays for solar power produced through the Green Power Providers Program, which was designed to encourage the growth of solar among consumers.

The advocacy group Solar Power Rocks gives Tennessee a D grade for its current solar policies, ranking the state 40th in the country.

Among the factors is a lack of tax rebates or a renewable portfolio standard that would mandate a certain percentage of all energy generation come from solar.

Until recent years, TVA led the country in its development of solar programs. This year the federal agency reduced rates it pays for electricity generated by residential customers and locked them in for the next 20 years.

Bickel, who is also on the board of the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association, says even with that, there are ways to make solar make sense.

"The other option is to build systems that are not part of TVA’s program,” he explains. “We can do battery systems that basically capture the solar during the day and have it used at night time hours or when the grid is down."

A recent report released by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy ranks TVA near the bottom of other southeastern utilities when it comes to solar energy generation.

The agency produced 382 megawatts of solar energy last year compared with almost 3,000 by Duke Energy in North Carolina.

The Tar Heel State, Florida and Georgia are listed as having the largest growth potential by 2021.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service – TN

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