Solar workshop helps businesses cash in on the sun

Published August 7, 2015

Chattanooga Times Free Press

August 5, 2015

One of the nation’s largest forklift dealers, The Bailey Company, installed its first solar units at its plant in Nashville four years ago to help give the company a greener image and reputation.

Ryan Bailey, the company’s director of sustainability, said the first solar panels were installed “primarily for environmental reasons since we’re focused on making The Bailey Company as environmentally sustainable as possible.”

But the investment in looking green also generated a greener bottom line for the company.

“We were impressed with the financial return, so we decided to invest in more systems,” said Bailey, who plans to soon install the company’s seventh solar unit at its Cleveland, Tenn., stores. “Nashville Electric System cuts us checks every summer, which is pretty awesome,” Bailey said.

TVA’s Green Power Providers program and Uncle Sam have offered premium payments and tax incentives for solar power generation, which has helped Bailey and other companies generate cash from the sale of solar power sold back to TVA and put on the electric grid.

LightWave Solar, the Nashville-based solar installer that has helped install many of the solar operations in the Tennessee Valley, will outline the financial and environmental advantages for solar power at a solar workshop on Friday at the Chattanooga Business Development Center.

The workshop will discuss upcoming changes in TVA’s incentives, which are scheduled to be reduced next year after paying premiums since 2003. Installations made in 2015 before the changes are adopted will continue to qualify for the current, higher incentives, however.

The workshop will discuss tax benefits, utility incentives, and available financing for solar installations and ways to reduce operating costs and generate revenue.

“Our solar workshop will highlight the financial incentives for commercial solar installations including TVA’s solar incentive that ends later this year,” saids Brian Bickel, sales director at LightWave Solar. “TVA’s program could become fully subscribed before the Nov. 13th application deadline.”

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s solar incentive program, Green Power Providers, is accepting applications. New applicants can lock in a 2 cent-per-kilowatt premium rate for 100 percent of their solar electricity for 10 years. For a typical commercial system of 50 kilowatts, the average annual revenue for the first 10 years is approximately $9,000 per year.

“Solar reduces operating costs, and as electric rates go up, solar becomes increasingly valuable because of the avoidance of exposure to fuel cost increases over time,” Bickel said.

Starting in 2016, TVA will not pay a premium for new solar projects approved in next year’s program. It is expected that TVA will pay the retail GSA-1 rate only. For example, if TVA approves a 50kW solar project this year, TVA would pay about $1,300 more annually than if the project were approved next year.

“The drop in premium is supposed to reflect the drop in solar prices, though we do not expect solar costs to come down much next year,” says LightWave Solar President Steve Johnson. “The 2 cent drop is not huge, but it makes an investment in solar look better this year.”