Solar, Solar Everywhere

In an unprecedented move, TVA opens the door for local power companies to generate their own electricity to meet unique customer needs, paving the way for a new solar boom.

JUNE 22, 2020 — This is an exciting time to be in the utility business for Jeff Dykes, CEO of BrightRidge, the local power company that serves Johnson City, Tennessee, and its surrounding area. He’s looking to a bright future indeed—one that includes plenty of new growth in local solar energy, thanks to a new power supply flexibility option that’s part of the Long-Term Partnership Agreement BrightRidge entered into with TVA last fall.

Power supply flexibility allows local power companies to now locally generate up to 5% of their average energy needs. Across TVA’s service territory, that means between 800 MWAC and 2000 MWAC, depending on the resource type, could be generated if all 154 of the Tennessee Valley’s local power companies participated in the program. Specifically, if all 154 local power companies generate solar, up to 2,000 MWAC of new solar could be developed in the Valley through this new option. 

For Dykes, that’s a big deal. “We are excited to have this flexibility to go out and meet our local customers’ needs—to give them the solutions they really need and want,” he says. “Here in Johnson City, our public school systems and East Tennessee State University were interested in putting solar on their rooftops. Now we can build a central solution for them all, and they don’t have to worry about maintenance and repair. It will reduce their costs and free up more money to invest in the schools. And isn’t that a positive thing for the whole community?”

Regional Development Tool

Plans to move forward on the schools project are immediate. But Dykes sees longer-term wins on the horizon. “Solar-friendly local options will give us an economic development tool and enhance how others see our community,” Dykes says. “I think it will give us a regional edge.”

TVA is in total agreement. “TVA’s integrated resource strategy continues to bring cleaner, greener power to the region while maintaining low rates and reliability,” says Doug Perry, TVA senior vice president, Commercial Energy Solutions. “Working with our local power company partners, we continue to bring new solutions to market that reduce carbon, meet changing customer needs and attract jobs into our communities.”

Perry notes that initially enabling 5% of energy for local, flexible generation via the Flexibility Option is just one avenue that TVA offers to bring more solar power into local power company territories. There are other, complementary ways to do so, most notably through TVA’s Green Invest program. This dynamic is already at play in Knoxville, which recently announced that it is using Green Invest to produce 212 MWAC of carbon-free energy, equivalent to 8% of its annual electrical load.

“Our investments in solar through the Green Invest program have allowed Knoxville Utilities Board to start making real improvements in our power supply mix,” says Gabe Bolas, KUB president and CEO.  Referring to the flexibility option, he noted “this contract flexibility gives us another way to support our community’s climate goals in the years to come.”

To wit, the TVA Green portfolio of renewable energy solutions offers residential and commercial customers options that complement the personal touch local power companies bring to the table. “Both parties bring strengths,” says Perry. “TVA brings economies of scale and institutional knowledge; LPCs bring local flavor and knowledge of their customers’ needs. Together, we can meet any green goal a customer brings to us.”

Greg Williams, executive vice president and general manager of Appalachian Electric Cooperative, thinks that spirit of collaboration is key to successfully launching this Flexibility Option and achieving a greener future for the Valley. “The word ‘flexible’ in the title of the agreement represents multiple things,” he says. “It represents an agreement to empower us to do generation in multiple ways, and it represents a new, flexible approach for TVA working with the power companies. We are creating a new paradigm in the way we are working together.”