U.S. House Committee questions TVA on “hindering” distributed solar


The Tennessee Valley Authority is “hindering” the deployment of renewable energy by its commercial and residential customers, says a letter to the utility from the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The letter questions TVA’s 2018 “maneuver” to reduce its wholesale rate while simultaneously imposing a fixed fee on local power companies, several of which then passed on the fixed fee to their customers.

Internal TVA documents show that TVA believed the fixed fee “would curtail the deployment of solar energy projects by 40%,” says the letter. TVA has also permitted local power companies to impose new fees on distributed solar, says the letter, citing TVA documents that state its goal of limiting “the potential decrease in TVA load that may occur through the adoption of [behind the meter] generation.”

The Committee is also concerned that renewable deployment in the region under the federal PURPA law is discouraged by TVA’s avoided cost and contract terms, which “are inadequate to finance and construct qualifying facilities.”

Citing President Biden’s Executive Order 14008, which seeks to achieve an electricity sector free of carbon pollution by 2035, the Committee said it is “greatly concerned” that TVA has deployed little solar and wind energy, while “considering” new gas units totaling 1.5 GW. The Committee asks whether TVA’s next integrated resource plan (IRP) will “comply with President Biden’s executive order,” noting that the Tennessee Valley Authority Act requires TVA to engage in least-cost planning, including energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy.

Tennessee Valley residents have electric bills that exceed the national average, “which particularly impacts low-income households in Tennessee,” the letter says, calling out TVA’s “decision” to deprioritize energy efficiency and impose fixed fees that “keep rates low but cost ratepayers money.”

President Biden has nominated four TVA directors to fill openings, who await Senate confirmation. Two more vacancies on the nine-member TVA board will open up in May, creating the possibility for Biden-appointed directors to govern the utility.

“The Senate needs to get to work,” said Daniel Tait, COO of Energy Alabama. “We have four good nominees and every day spent waiting is another in which the people of the Tennessee Valley are getting the short end of the stick.”

The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce letter poses 16 questions to TVA, and requests responses by February 2. TVA is the nation’s largest public utility, serving customers in seven states.

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