TVA Incentives Fuel Homegrown Power

Fueled by TVA incentives and federal tax credits, participation in Generation Partners has tripled since last spring from 69 to 194 installations — 181 are solar and 13 are wind power.

The combined generating capacity of the Generation Partners portfolio has grown from 454 kilowatts to more than 1.49 megawatts. While the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, the combined energy from today’s Generation Partners installations is expected to make enough electricity over a year to equal the annual consumption of more than 120 average Tennessee Valley households.

"Surpassing 1 megawatt is a milestone for this program," said Susan Curtis, TVA senior manager of Generation Partners. "It shows a growing desire of many residents to take a personal stake in clean renewable energy for our region. TVA and its distributors want to help."

Though a small contributor to TVA’s 33,000-megawatt system, the power from Generation Partners, a pilot program launched in 2003, comes with clean-air savings. The 547,877 kilowatt-hours Generation Partners produced in fiscal 2009 represents 497 metric tons in avoided carbon dioxide emissions from fossil power plants.

USFloors Inc. of Dalton, Ga., recently became Generation Partners’ largest participant with the installation of a 144-kilowatt system. It has 672 solar photovoltaic panels covering 14,500 square feet on a warehouse rooftop that can be seen from Interstate 75. Already, the sustainable flooring company is planning to modify a second existing solar array of 31.5 kilowatts to more than 300 kilowatts.

"There is no question that both TVA and North Georgia Electric Membership Corp. have been crucial elements in making this come to fruition," USFloors President Piet Dossche said. "Without them this would have been less attractive."

Generation Partners offers homeowners and businesses financial incentives for qualifying solar power, wind energy, biomass and small hydroelectric systems of less than 1 megawatt. TVA pays each new participant $1,000 to offset startup costs and agrees to buy 100 percent of the green power they produce. TVA will pay the retail rate, plus any fuel cost adjustment, plus a 12-cent premium per kilowatt-hour for solar and 3 cents per kilowatt-hour for wind, biomass and hydro.

"Many of the homeowners and businesses we serve support renewable energy technologies and want to invest in renewable energy systems, which is encouraged through this program," said Steve Ward, energy services coordinator at North Georgia Electric Membership Corp., based in Dalton.

Federal renewable tax credits and the expanded Generation Partners pilot program are driving consumer interest in renewables, he said, noting North Georgia Electric Membership Corp. has two businesses and three homes now participating in Generation Partners and applications from four more.

"Based on the participation in the program we have had so far and the many inquiries about it, we do expect to see more renewable energy systems installed in 2010," Ward said.

"The incentives make the project viable," said Richard Grogan, president of Total Quality Instrumentation Inc., a renewable energy sales and installation company in Cookeville, Tenn., whose 44-kilowatt solar array pushed Generation Partners past 1 megawatt in capacity.

Total Quality’s system includes 220 solar panels atop the company’s 10,000 square-foot building and a 34-foot-tall wind turbine. Grogan said he was delighted with his first monthly bill from his TVA distributor, Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corp. It showed that renewables not only generated enough electricity to meet his company’s needs for the month, but also a $40 credit.

"We just started in environmental installations late last year," Grogan said. "We have done four windmills and two solar systems. We have many systems in the works waiting on grants. Upon approval, our next install will be a 44-kilowatt system in Nashville on an airport hangar."

"We are going like gangbusters," said Jim Purcell, program manager at Nashville Electric Service. NES has 23 homes and 21 commercial buildings either in the process of installing solar panels for Generation Partners or already plugged in, including two public housing projects with 65-kilowatt solar arrays.

"I am fairly confident that the incentives that are out there from TVA are making these green companies work for us," Purcell said, noting a growing number of Nashville-area installers. "Based on what I am seeing, the early returns are excellent."

The Tennessee Valley Authority, a corporation owned by the U.S. government, provides electricity for utility and business customers in most of Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia – an area of 80,000 square miles with a population of 9 million.

TVA operates 29 hydroelectric dams, 11 coal-fired power plants, three nuclear plants and 11 natural gas-fired power facilities and supplies up to 36,000 megawatts of electricity, delivered over 16,000 miles of high-voltage power lines. TVA also provides flood control, navigation, land management and recreation for the Tennessee River system and works with local utilities and state and local governments to promote economic development across the region. TVA, which makes no profits and receives no taxpayer money, is funded by sales of electricity to its customers. Electricity prices in TVA’s service territory are below the national average.