Tennessee and Alabama aren’t exactly known for being national solar powerhouses; actually far from it. Which is why last week’s announcement by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) of two solar projects totaling 377 MW to support Facebook’s data center in Huntsville, Alabama was so groundbreaking.
Sure, 150 and 227 MW projects are going to move the needle anyway, but when those projects represent 77% of the two states’ combined total installed solar capacity, the needle gets shot into orbit. Furthermore, the 227 MW project, to be constructed in Colbert County, AL, is just 23 MW short of matching the state’s entire installed solar capacity.
Not only has TVA announced that it is moving forward with the construction of these projects, but it has announced developers for the projects. First Solar will develop the 227 MW farm in Colbert County, while NextEra Energy Resources will develop the Tennessee branch of the project, a 150 MW farm in Lincoln County. No timetable has been announced yet for anticipated start or end dates of the project, nor have any hardware details regarding module, racking or inverter choices been made available.
“We are committed to supporting our operations with 100 percent renewable energy and look to partner with organizations like TVA who offer solutions to help meet that goal,” said Bryce Dalley, energy manager at Facebook. “TVA has been a great, responsive partner, and we are looking forward to being a part of the community in Huntsville.”
The projects have already caught the eye of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an advocacy group that has previously been at odds with TVA for the utility’s relatively stagnant solar development.
“We applaud Facebook for having the vision and the leadership to push for a clean energy future and TVA for responding to this large customer’s demand,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
“We look forward to additional solar announcements. However, TVA will still need to scale up considerably over the next five years to keep pace with solar installations from other utilities in the Southeast and respond to all customer classes desire for more solar.”
Notice the distinction made to point out that the project was due to Facebook’s push. Facebook has committed to supplying 100% renewable energy to all of its data centers and offices by 2020. Without Facebook, it’s likely that TVA wouldn’t see nearly this level of development. While the semi-public power giant has was involved in the development of Alabama’s largest solar plant, TVA has openly admitted to attempting to stifle customer-sited solar with internal policy changes.