Small-Scale Solar The Focus In Tennessee

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is revamping its program for developing small-scale solar power sources, aiming to encourage more but not-quite-so-big installations – and a Chattanooga, Tenn., company is looking to step in to fill the need. SunOne Energy put out word that it’s seeking south-facing rooftops and clear pasture land where it could build community-owned solar arrays under 50 kilowatts (kW) in size. That’s the new maximum size allowed in the TVA’s Generation Partners program.

In a pilot phase running through July 31, the TVA program saw 619 projects completed, totaling 23 megawatts (MW) of power generation, with another 213 projects and 45 MW in the pipeline. The incentive program had allowed projects up to 200 kW, and those came to comprise nearly 90 percent of the installed capacity. That became unsustainable for the program, which is supported by revenues from renewable power blocks sold through TVA’s Green Power Switch program.

TVA small-scale solar, SunOne Energy

image via TVA

“The move comes as costs to produce solar power are dropping and the region’s solar industry grows more competitive, self-sufficient and less reliant on subsidies for long-term success,” TVA said in announcing the changes.

SunOne is putting community ownership at the center of its business model. Under its plan, “members can buy individual solar modules (units) in a particular farm and receive a portion of the income and tax benefit generated by the array,” the company said. The company and its development partners, including Chattanooga State Technical Institute, would develop maintain and monitor the system “to provide the member solid returns by maximizing the outputs, and creating opportunities through education,” SunOne said.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.