Poll: Majority of Tennessee Voters Support Solar and Oppose Fixed Charges On Bill or Restrictions to Customer Choice

This blog was written by Alissa Schafer, former Solar Policy & Communications Manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | December 4, 2017 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Solar, Utilities

Recent polling conducted by North Star Opinion Research shows widespread support throughout Tennessee for solar energy as well as strong opposition to solar market barriers currently being erected by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) such as fixed (mandatory) monthly charges and limitations to customer choice.

Conducted October 21-26, 2017, the poll contacted 600 registered voters in Tennessee for live interviews over the phone, with 44 percent of the interviews taking place on cell phones and the sample including diverse representation of gender, age, race, and location.

The study found that 81 percent of Tennessee voters want to see more solar in Tennessee, with 88 percent of voters wanting it on their own home. In addition, 88 percent prefer that their electricity bill be based on usage, rather than a fixed fee, and 83 percent of voters believe that local power companies should have the ability to purchase energy from sources other than TVA.

Founding members of the Tennesseans for Solar Choice coalition participated in a press conference on Monday, December 4th, to discuss these results and the big picture implications for both Tennesseans and the direction that TVA appears to be heading. Here are some highlights from the press conference:

The fact that nearly nine in ten Tennessee voters prefer that their electricity bill be based on usage, rather than a fixed fee (or so called ‘grid access fee’) should not be a surprise,” stated Elder Jimmie Garland, Vice President Middle TN for the TN State Conference NAACP. “Forcing these additional fees onto customers every month is a regressive move that is not in the best interest of consumers and will especially hurt families on low and fixed income.”

“Given recent statements made and policy changes issued by TVA, it has never been more evident than today where TVA stands in its lack of support for privately developed renewable energy projects, and the companies who build them. TVA pays nothing to design, install or maintain privately owned solar projects of all sizes, yet these systems supply TVA with additional grid power and reliability in distributed pockets all throughout their system, particularly in summer peak load times,” said Brian Bickel, TenneSEIA (Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association) board member. “As we heard today, the majority of Tennesseans think that the value for solar sent back to the grid should be fair, and equal to the rate at which it is purchased. Any sort of downward pressure, or even uncertainty around that rate, is a bad policy move by TVA that effectively de-values solar.”

Lenda Sherrell, State Director for the Tennessee Small Business Alliance, stated: “Small businesses are the economic backbone of our Tennessee communities, generating the majority of job growth and local economic activity, despite constant competition against large corporations every day. To now be faced with the prospect of reduced credit for solar energy generated through their own investment as well as limitations and uncertainty on the rights to contract with someone other than their local power company or TVA for solar energy, is an unfair penalization to our small business community.”

“TVA customers want the ability to choose and invest in their own energy future,” stated Debbie Dooley, Tea Party Co-Founder and President of Conservatives for Energy Freedom.  “Whether that means investing in rooftop solar for a family or business, which this polling showed 88 percent of Tennessee voters would like to do, or a local power company (LPC) having the ability to purchase their own renewable energy, which 83 percent of voters agreed that LPCs should be able to do, Tennesseans are demanding consumer choice. It is time for the monopoly power company TVA to get out of the way and stop moving towards barriers in the solar market.”

“TVA’s proposed rate changes and lack of support for customer ownership and customer choice of clean technologies like solar power are running against public opinion in Tennessee and the tradition of public power’s historic relationship with its customers. Taking an anti-renewable energy posture when customers and companies alike want to see more investments and policies that support solar power is short sighted,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “With actions like increasing mandatory fixed charges, limiting contracts with solar companies, and not paying fair rates for solar generation, TVA is undermining the solar power market, all in a desperate attempt to maintain control of power generation and limit customer choice.”

Tennesseans for Solar Choice is a diverse and multi-partisan coalition, working to remove the market barriers and enable the fair expansion of solar power to benefit all Tennesseans. Learn more and get involved at www.tnsolarchoice.org.

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