With a slew of recent solar growth, TVA stands poised to triple its solar portfolio by 2021.
MARCH 6, 2019 — There’s no doubt about it — the Tennessee Valley is experiencing a solar Renaissance. Here, there, everywhere, solar is going in at businesses, communities, homes and industries. In fact, so much solar is happening, there are some pretty staggering numbers to throw around.
Numbers like 193 — the percentage growth in TVA’s contracted solar capacity just last year. Numbers like 3,733 — the total number of solar installation sites in the service territory (pretty incredible when you consider that number was less than 500 just ten years ago). Numbers like 1.4 million — the population of the Valley that now has access to community solar in big markets like Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis, yes, but small ones, too, like Jackson, Tullahoma and New Market, Tennessee.
What’s happened here? You might say TVA has laid out a trail of breadcrumbs — if you can liken smart, solar-focused programs to breadcrumbs—starting with those aimed at encouraging solar installations for homeowners and small businesses, then communities, then industries, setting stakes higher and higher.
All that work paid off this year with a pair of big announcements that sent Valley solar into orbit, a pair of companies coming to northern Alabama and Clarksville, Tennessee, and bringing with them the need for 674 MWAC of 100 percent, new-to-the-world solar energy — brought to you by TVA.
Those two companies are Google and Facebook, which announced that they would build new data centers in Alabama and Tennessee contingent on the ability to secure the renewable power they’d need to support their businesses. TVA could and would, says Chris Hansen, TVA’s director of Pricing Strategy and Origination, who expects to see more industrial customers with similar renewable demands.
“When we are looking at large scale solar projects, we want to be a part of the solution in responding to their sustainability goals because the ability to achieve 100 percent renewable energy is one of their do-not-pass-go items,” he says. “Unless we meet those goals, they won’t come here. So, we collaborated with them to develop new solutions. These solutions make them comfortable knowing we can help to build these giant facilities to meet their sustainability goals.”
Hansen was part of a team within TVA to issue a request for proposals for the two companies, which were answered and announced in 2018. The main solar farms involved represent 674 MWAC of capacity in total—297AC for Google and 377AC MW for Facebook, each split across two sites:
|150 MWAC||Bellefonte Solar||Jackson County, Ala.|
|147 MWAC||Invenergy||Fayette County, Tenn.|
|227 MWAC||First Solar||Colbert County, Ala.|
|150 MWAC||NextEra||Lincoln County, Tenn.|
It’s good news all the way around, says Hansen. “Utility scale solar is the most affordable for the Valley — we’re coming in at less than half of the cost of small-scale installations,” he says. “Plus, these are megawatts that have jobs and capital investment associated with them.”
Facebook and Google combined are investing almost $2 billion in the Valley in large part due to TVA’s ability to provide low-cost, reliable and renewable power. In other words, this is an economic development story.
“Actually, when you look at the big picture, this growth is right on TVA’s mission of energy, environment and economic development,” says Laura Duncan, a manager in the Commercial Energy Solutions group. “You’re talking about all three aspects of our mission, woven together.”
John Bradley, senior vice president of Economic Development, concurs. “Top-tier businesses like Google and Facebook choose to invest in the Valley because TVA enables customers to achieve 100 percent renewables,” he says. “Delivering large amounts of reliable, renewable energy at competitive rates creates quality jobs for the region and makes the Valley an attractive place to do business.”
As far as Hansen is concerned, we’ve done it before, we’ll do it again. “We know that partnering with business to provide the renewable resources they want is a winning proposition for our region,” he says. “When renewable energy drives economic and environmental benefits, it’s nothing but net for everyone in the Tennessee Valley.”