published Sunday, May 12th, 2013

TVA's $5-million solar eclipse

Steam rises from the cooling tower of the single operating reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn. in this 2007 photo.
Photo by TVA
Steam rises from the cooling tower of the single operating reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn. in this 2007 photo. Photo by TVA

It's disappointing to hear that the Tennessee Valley Authority has unplugged its TVA Green Power Providers program, the solar initiative that helped the utility build solar power up to a whopping 1 percent of its electric generation mix.

Solar power was just too successful, and people signed on to invest their own money in it so readily that the utility set capacity limits on the solar segment of its renewable energy programs for 2013. That "capacity" was met within the first four months of the year. And the program may not be reopened.

TVA officials say they don't want to "subsidize" solar power.

The utility -- the one that now has a $2 billion cost overrun for a second reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant -- says the $5 million shortfall in the solar program is too much.

Here's how TVA's solar program worked:

A home or business owner opted to install a solar array on the roof or in the yard. They put up thousands of dollars for a private installation. TVA, looking to build renewable diversity in its power "portfolio," offered a $1,000 upfront assistance payment and contracted with the home or business owner to buy the solar power produced for about 9 cents more than the retail power rate. The difference was credited to the customer's utility bill. The customer also has been eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit on the solar investment.

TVA got help paying its "subsidy" from its companion program called Green Power Switch, through which regular customers volunteered to pay a few cents more for electricity to help TVA obtain renewable energy sources.

When TVA first began pulling back on the Green Power Providers program in July 2011, utility officials said the difference between what Green Power Switch brought in and what TVA paid out as credits to "generation partners" was about $5 million a year.

Let's give that some context over and above the overrun at Watts Bar.

Each of TVA's six operating nuclear reactors makes $1 million a day for the utility that has an $11 billion a year operating budget.

The so-called annual shortfall in the solar program -- that $5 million with an M -- is about the same amount of money that each of TVA's top five executives makes in a year.

But there's another wrinkle.

Would that TVA -- and all of us -- were so steadfast about not subsidizing nuclear, coal and gas for power.

Nationally, within the past decade, federal subsidies have provided $72.5 billion -- that's billion with a B -- for fossil fuels to power our lives, according to the Environmental Law Institute. At the same time, we taxpayers have spent $16.8 billion for corn ethanol subsidies, while traditional renewable energy initiatives such as wind and solar power received $12.2 billion. We've also spent $2.3 billion on carbon capture and storage, a developing technology that would allow coal-burning utilities to capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions.

Other experts have said the nuclear industry has received more than $100 billion in subsidies in the past 50 years.

So it's fair to say that solar power -- the untapped oil well on the roof -- is but a sliver of the overall energy subsidy pie.

But here's the real mind-number.

Oil and coal and gas will eventually be gone. Maybe uranium, too. But the sun will still shine. And if for some reason the sun is gone, too, ratepayers and taxpayers won't need to worry about what powers the light switch.

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BigRidgePatriot said...

The logic seems to be that if you mis-spent money in one area that you should continue to mis-spend in another area?

Sorry! Solar is still a loser! If you think it is such a good idea go ahead and buy your panels and your battery storage system and quit looking for handouts.

May 12, 2013 at 12:11 a.m.
stevedj_98 said...

The real "losers" are the electricity users of the Tennessee Valley, and our future generations. Yep, I did what you suggest, and bought the panels last year, when there were rumors of cutbacks to the TVA Green Power Program. My home system produced $133.87 of electricity in Chattanooga under cloudy, rainy skies this April. In addition, I power my 100% electric Nissan LEAF car with the gallons of sunshine that fall from the sky. Now, who is the real loser?

May 12, 2013 at 12:34 a.m.
anticorp said...

I had no idea Tennessee was as progressive to, even temporarily, have a "Feed-in-Tariff" (FIT). If you could win this back, even through a government program, you'd find yourself leading the nation in clean, sustainable energy in short order (see Gainesville’s Feed in Tariff). You have seen how quickly citizens jumped aboard with their own money.

Remember this: the more energy produced at the site of consumption the less justification TVA has for rate hikes to build more nukes and beefing up the grid, especially this latter. “Distributed Energy”, instead of centralized is way more efficient and the number one reason TVA, Duke Energy and the FP&Ls are destined to be downsized at best or remain the same size. As the larger part of our energy production, they are living on borrowed time. Here’s why:

Today there is enough properly oriented roof space (over 100 million) to generate over 75% of the energy we use, where we use it. That doesn’t include available adjacent space.

Here is the clincher! Solar systems with “net metering” (power company forced to pay you back in kilowatt hours at the same price they charge you) and grid connected are now cheaper than the power company can generate electricity and sell it to you. There are no battery costs.

I just got a quote to install (the complete system) the number of panels needed to replace [all] the electricity we use for $3/watt. They provide financing, as well, and it guarantees today’s monthly cost and pays off in 20yrs. Then we own it. Or paying cash it pays back in 10.5yrs and we own it. They guarantee the whole system for 25yrs and historically they produce significant electricity for 40-45yrs.

The above is without [any] subsidy and it is the death knell of the giant energy producers, if we can pry their hands of the throats of the legislature. Granted, all our state and federal governments have been corrupted by corporations, so it won’t be easy.

May 12, 2013 at 6:50 a.m.
Leaf said...

BigRidge is normally reasonable, but has an unreasonable hatred for solar power. What, did you get a bad sunburn? Are you a vampire? What do you have against the sun?

May 13, 2013 at 9:31 a.m.
anticorp said...

BigRidge is stuck in time, with a head full of corporate propaganda. "Here are the facts on energy subsidies:

In cumulative dollar amounts, over the lifetimes of their respective subsidies, the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries have received approximately $630 billion in U.S. government subsidies, while wind, solar, biofuels and other renewable sectors have received a total of roughly $50 billion in government investments. (DBL Investors, The federal government has subsidized traditional energy technologies for more than 60 years before supporting renewable energy. A recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report notes: “From 1916 to the 1970s, federal energy-related tax policy focused almost exclusively on increasing the production of domestic oil and natural gas; there were no tax incentives for promoting renewable energy or increasing energy efficiency.” (Source: CBO, Tax preferences for traditional energy outweighed those for renewable energy through 2007. “[T]ax preferences for fossil fuels continued to make up the bulk of all energy-related tax incentives through 2007, typically accounting for more than two-thirds of the total cost.” (Source: CBO,"

End them all and coal, oil and nuclear would fold like like lawn chairs when stacked up against solar, wind and geothermal.

May 13, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.
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