TVA building its largest solar energy facility in Memphis

The Tennessee Valley Authority recently announced that it will be upping its renewable energy footprint with a proposed one-megawatt solar farm in Southwest Memphis.

Adjacent to the under-construction Allen Combined Cycle Plant, the new facility will have an array of more than 3,000 solar panels on its three acres along Riverport Road. It is estimated to provide enough juice to power around 120 average-sized homes.

Along with the cycle plant’s five megawatts of biogas generation, the combined renewable production at the facility is projected to power up to 2,900 homes.

Once completed, the project will be the TVA’s largest solar facility and on par with the size of the array at the Agricenter International.

“TVA is committed to investing in renewable energy opportunities that support consumer demands while maintaining the lowest possible rates. In this case, TVA had funding for solar and a time commitment with the EPA to use the funds by September,” said Scott Brooks, public relations for TVA.

The energy harnessed at the $1.3 million solar installation will complement production at the adjacent new natural gas plant with enough electricity from solar to power about 120 average homes on its own. Along with five megawatts of biogas generation, it will also produce enough renewable energy to power approximately 2,900 homes on average.

This is a big step for President’s Island plant, which formerly processed coal burning energy until TVA entered an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 to shutter the plan due to air pollution violations.

“Renewable power is beneficial in that it produces little to no emissions, so there are air quality benefits from TVA's investment in solar generation,” said Tamara Nolen, Communications and Public Relations for MLGW.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is adding more solar to its power portfolio with the construction of a solar facility at the Allen combined cycle gas site in Memphis. The one megawatt facility will be the largest TVA-owned solar project in its service area.

With construction crews on the job constructing the natural gas plant, there was easy access to labor, supporting infrastructure and a connection point for the solar energy to flow to.

“The site was basically shovel-ready,” said Brooks.

The upgrades in both renewable and cleaner energy are a part of a pattern for the TVA. Its plan is to grow the rate of renewable energy at a rate that is sustainably aligned with other generation sources. Typically, large-scale solar projects from outside the TVA are providers, although smaller projects through local power companies are growing in number.

To further support the expansion of renewable energy technology, MLGW offers programs like Green Power Switch and Green Power Providers, among other options.

Currently, there are 1,370 customers who take part in Green Power Switch. Each month they pay extra on their MLGW bills to support renewables, without the capital expense of installing generation. For example, each $4 block of green energy results in the generation of 150-killowatt hours of renewable power.

Green Power Providers, on the other hand, has attracted about 80 customers. Those involved in this program have invested in solar generation for their homes and businesses, which they sell back to the TVA for credits on their monthly bill.

“Customer interest in renewable generation has been moderate, although there are many misperceptions about the costs and efficiencies of renewable power generation,” said Nolen.

While MLGW customers’ interest in renewable energy programs has been relatively sparse, the same can’t be said for the TVA.

Over the next two decades, TVA expects to invest about $8 billion to grow its renewables portfolio. Currently, that portfolio includes 400 megawatts of solar and 1,200 in wind power, in addition to 50 megawatts generated from biomass.

“All electricity whether from renewable, nuclear or fossil fuel sources is transported through the same TVA transmission system to MLGW's distribution system, where it is delivered to homes and businesses,” said Nolen.

TVA, meanwhile, still generates the bulk of its energy through a mix of nuclear, coal, natural gas and hydroelectric sources, although that is slowly changing.

It is the intermittent nature of most renewable technologies that both necessitates these older forms of energy, while limiting green energy’s place in the TVA’s portfolio for now.

“It is important to note that green power, including solar and wind, is intermittent.  Solar power is strongest at mid-day and wind generation is strongest at night, which makes interconnecting these resources more challenging,” said Nolen.

But even though renewables like solar energy present challenges in continuous energy generation, they are nonetheless vital in the face of ecological challenges in the present and future.

“Solar energy is an important part of our diverse generation portfolio. It is carbon-free clean energy,” said Brooks. “However, we must balance that with the relative high cost of solar versus our other generating sources.”

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