SunBlockers: “Solar in the Southeast” Annual Report blog series (part 5 of 5)

Bryan Jacob | March 7, 2018 | Solar, Utilities

This is the final installment in a five-part series about the SACE “Solar in the Southeast” 2017 Annual Report. To view other blogs in this series, click here.

SunBlockers – Not What The Doctor Ordered

Part 3 of this series focused on the leaders. Today, we throw some shade at the opposite end of the spectrum – the laggards.  A few of the major utility systems in the southeast exhibit rather pitiful solar ambition and are dragging down the regional averages.  Some of them are actively working to limit customers’ freedom to choose solar. Regardless of how it was earned, “SunBlocker” is not a title to be proud of.

Three major utility systems – Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Santee Cooper, and Seminole Electric Cooperative – are sticking with outdated plans with low levels of solar. Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility; and Seminole Electric, the generation and transmission entity serving rural electric coops in Florida, were already in the bottom three of our 2017 watts per customer ranking (with just 14 W/C and 17 W/C, respectively). TVA continues to actively restrict solar choice across the Tennessee Valley.

In our forecast for 2021, all three utilities, Santee Cooper, Seminole Electric, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) earn the dishonorable distinction as SunBlockers.  We apply this moniker to the bottom three major utility systems on our four-year outlook (watts per customer).

As indicated in a prior installment, TVA is a federal monopoly and is the second largest utility in the southeast, so they deserve some extra attention.  The TVA service territory covers 99% of the state of Tennessee (along with parts of four other southeastern states: Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina; plus two additional states, Virginia and Kentucky, as well).  In total, TVA represented a disappointing 6% of the total solar in the Southeast for 2017.

In contrast to other utilities, TVA’s commitment to renewable energy is waning. Forecast at just 125 W/C by 2021, TVA’s management commitment to solar is well below the Southeast average.

As an example of a utility that is overtly hostile to solar in its service territory, TVA prohibits “net metering” – a billing practice to support customer-owned solar that exists in 38 states. Instead, TVA buys all the power owners generate, and requires them to buy all the power they consume from the local power company (LPC). This system reflects TVA’s monopoly control over power generation. For 2018, TVA has lowered the rate they pay for solar power produced by these Green Power Providers to below the rate the LPCs charge those same customers for their electricity consumption.

This does not align with the majority of Tennesseans’ expectations.  Polling results from 2017 indicate that 62% of registered voters in Tennessee believe solar customers should receive the same rate when they provide power to the power company as they do when they buy electricity from the power company.

Some LPCs served by TVA are also trying to unnecessarily raise the fixed charge component of the utility bills.  These fee hikes also conflict with polling data –  88% of Tennesseans prefer their bill based on usage rather than a fixed fee. This LPC/TVA maneuver disproportionately affects low-income residents and it creates a disincentive for energy-efficiency and for customer-owned solar generation.

Rest assured that SACE will continue to vigorously oppose these devious attempts to undermine the value of solar and your freedoms to choose solar in Tennessee. We’ve got your back.

SACE is a proud member of Tennesseans for Solar Choice – a diverse and multi-partisan coalition, working to remove the market barriers and enable the fair expansion of solar power to benefit all Tennesseans.

Click here to learn more and get involved:


Bryan Jacob
Bryan joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in June 2017. As Solar Program Consultant, Bryan helps to lead activities to promote solar power across the Southeast. These activities range…
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