Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which serves 10 million people across an 80,000 square mile territory in the southeast US, released its fiscal year (FY) 2021 report on sustainability, revealing progress towards climate goals and high targets for carbon-free generation through the next decade.
“The vitality and growth of our region is underpinned by low-cost, reliable and clean energy. Over the past five years, TVA has worked with state and local partners to deliver about 350,000 jobs and $45.9 billion in capital investments,” wrote president and CEO Jeff Lyash in opening remarks on the report.
Lyash stated goals of targeting up to 10 GW of solar by 2035, and more than 200,000 EVs on TVA roadways by 2028. Operating and contracted solar capacity grew 77% in FY 2021, and the first TVA-built utility-scale solar and battery projects are underway and expected to be online by 2024-2025. The utility expects to have about 2.8 GW of solar in TVA operation by 2024.
However, the sustainability report disclosures reveal that TVA owns 1 MW of operable solar capacity and reports no ownership of wind energy assets, as of the FY 2021 report. This is largely due to the fact that TVA is unable to access the federal investment tax credit dedicated to solar projects. To secure the best rate for solar in its territory, TVA instead has developers play the role of owner-operator, so that the incentive can be utilized and customer rates can remain low. A company spokesperson told pv magazine as of February 1, TVA has 642 MW operating solar.
Renewable energy capacity owned and in operation by TVA has decreased slightly each year since 2019, according to the report. Currently, TVA has 5,386 MW of renewable energy capacity, nearly all of which is hydropower. In addition to the hydropower production, TVA reports it purchased 7,269 MW of renewable energy from outside sources in FY 2021.
“We have a plan to achieve a 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and a path to about 80% by 2035. We aspire to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” wrote Revecca Tolene, TVA’s chief sustainability officer.
TVA has already reduced emissions by 57% since 2005. Much of that has come from the retirement of coal plants and the activation of more nuclear power, which grew from a 26% share to 41%. Coal shrank from 57% of operations to 16% over that period. Solar and wind energy were not meaningfully represented in the 2005 figures, and now hold just 3% of the energy mix.
Solar investment programs
The utility said it has committed nearly $3 billion in solar investments through its Green Invest program since 2018. A large driver of growth in this program is through contracts with large corporations like Google, Meta (Facebook), and others.
The federally owned utility contracted for 1,178 MW of utility-scale solar generation by the end of FY 2020. It also implemented the Green Connect program in FY21, creating a qualified solar contractor network. The program has achieved 19 qualified installers, over 1000 customers registered, about 200 installations submitted, 65 installations verified, and over $7.5M of customer spending on systems within the Green Connect network.
TVA runs another program called Green Switch, which provides customers with 100% renewable energy at a small premium. The utility said contracts can be signed for as low as $2 per month, and customers can match some or all their current electricity use with a mix of solar, wind and biomass generation sources located in the Valley. In FY 2021, the mix was approximately 70% solar, 20% wind and 10% biomass sources.
The utility said it has invested over $2 billion in transmission system improvements through 2025, perhaps paving the way for the interconnection of 10 GW of solar by 2035.
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