Solar power: 13 EED customers use energy from the sun

Published 9:14 am Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It has been five years since the Elizabethton Electric Department became a part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Generation Partners, a program designed to increase renewable energy generation in the Tennessee Valley.

Since then, 13 EED customers; three commercial and 10 residential, have signed up to be a part of the program and have installed their own solar power systems to generate electricity.

The EED introduced the program in early 2010 and Security Federal Bank in downtown Elizabethton became the first customer to participate, unveiling their 10.2 kilovolt system in November 2010.

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The project for Security Federal started when the building, housing the bank, needed to be reroofed, architect Steve Sykes said. The board of directors started looking for improvements that could be made, such as removing old satellite equipment that was no longer used and improving insulation, when they decided to look into what else could be done. Sykes oversaw the installation of the bank’s solar system, which was completed by FLS Energy of Asheville, N.C.

Former Security Federal President Peter Hampton has been interested in solar power since the 1970s and it was because of his interest that the project really caught hold and moved forward, Sykes said. Hampton tapped Sykes for the project because of his previous experiece. Sykes had just worked on the installation of a large 50 kilovolt solar system for the National Guard near Knoxville.

“Mr. Hampton had a long time interest in solar power,” Sykes said. “He was interested in the environmental aspects, and in the practicality of it. When we were working on the reroofing project, I asked if there was anything else that needed to be done and we decided to go ahead with the solar panels.”

At the time of the installation in 2010, the TVA was being aggressive with incentives to gain new solar customers, Sykes said. Security Federal also received a Tennessee Clean Energy Grant to cover other portions of the investment cost, significantly lowering the up-front cost to the bank.

“Security Federal was the first solar customer for the TVA in Carter County,” Sykes said. “There were people who had private systems before that were not grid connected. It has been a learning curve for everyone. The first year it was installed, I was really interested in it and it performed right as it was expected.”

The system not only generates electricity on sunny days, Sykes says, but also when the weather is cloudy. In fact, he says, energy production has even been recorded at night.

“It is a very efficient system,” Sykes said. “It is great way to generate electricity and it is extremely clean.”

When customers choose to become a part of the Generations Partners program, they can purchase solar or wind powered equipment to be placed on their home or business. The power that is generated by the equipment is sent back into the TVA power grid and the customers receive a credit on their electric bill for the amount of power made by their equipment.

The program offers TVA a way to add additional power to their supply system, which is needed during peak demand hours, EED’s Director of Marketing and Industrial Services Ken Markland explained. During peak demand hours, the TVA should have a buffer power supply to match the energy made by the largest producer in the system in case of a supplier failure, he said.

“This program, coupled with conservation, can reduce the load across the Valley,” Markland said.

The technology plays a double role in energy production, Markland says. While advances allow for more “green” or renewable energy technology to be created, the more technology becomes a part of everyday life, then more electricity is used by households and businesses.

Electric department customers who are interested in being a part of the program can choose between solar and wind powered equipment to install at their homes. Markland recommended homeowners do their homework and research the options thoroughly before making any decision.

“Solar power does a better job in this area,” Markland said. “By and large, Tennessee is not a good choice for wind power. There are some areas where it will work.

“Solar is still not at 100 percent,” he added. “Technology continues to improve making it more efficient.”

Solar systems installed through the TVA program are not designed to be “money makers”, Markland said.

“The energy that is made goes back into the TVA grid,” he said. “It is meant to replace their energy footprint, not to be a money maker.”

To be a part of the program, interested customers must fill out an application to the TVA by the filing deadline each year. A designated number of openings are set aside each year, and if more applications are received than slots are available the customers selected are drawn at random. The remaining applicants are placed on a wait list in case one of the approved applicants does not complete the process, Markland said.

Interested applicants can contact the EED at 542-1100.