Demand for rooftop solar remains strong, despite incentive cuts by TVA

Published January 25, 2016

Nashville Public Radio – Blake Farmer – January 25, 2016

The Tennessee Valley Authority has been walking back incentives for rooftop solar panels. But that hasn’t put a damper on demand. There was a frenzy to snap up this year’s available wattage, which became available last week.

There’s a 10 megawatt cap on how much solar power TVA will buy from small-time generators each year. In rough terms, that’s enough power to serve 1,600 homes with electricity. And on the first day for applications this year, the utility received 50 requests, even though TVA no longer pays a premium for that power.

“It is not sound fiscal policy to pay for energy from any resource that is not needed or to pay more than it is valued,” TVA’s Joe Hoagland said in a letter responding to concerns from environmental groups.

For those who make a living installing solar panels, the cap is more of a concern than the cut in what TVA pays per kilowatt hour.

“Those premiums have been tapered down as the cost of installations have also dropped. So that’s not a real issue,” says Brian Bickel, sales director at Lightwave Solar. “The issue is: why is TVA continuing to limit the number of systems they allow?”

Since the annual cap was instituted, the number of small-scale solar arrays brought online each year has been slashed.

In its defense, a TVA spokesman says while the utility no longer pays elevated prices for solar power, it does cost more than generating the electricity on its own.