Caught Up In Green Tape

It seems I’ve hit a speed bump on the road to a clean energy future. As I’ve read absolutely nothing about this in our local news media, I thought I’d better say something here to let folks know what is happening in this obscure corner of the new energy economy.

As many of you know, we’ve installed a not-insignificant solar array on the roof of our house. Supposedly ours is larger than the Gores, not because our roof is larger but because we don’t live in Belle Meade and I understand they have more stringent zoning rules than we do in Nashville.

Anyway, we’re at the point of commissioning our system, which is where we sign our contract with NES to lock in a price at which the distributor buys our power. We are basically power producers, which I think is really cool.

However, we’ve hit a snag. It seems TVA and Nashville Electric Service are at odds over TVA’s new Generation Partners contract, and it’s left folks like us in the middle.

The good news is that the new contract is much more favorable to Generation Partners: we get a $1,000 signing bonus and receive our base rate plus 12 cents for every kWh we produce, which would add up to nearly 21-cents a kWh. This also means that what we are paid goes up if rates go up, because it’s base-plus. I love this deal!

The new contract goes into effect July 1 but NES has not signed on as of yet. I don’t really understand all of the issues preventing NES and TVA from coming to terms; it’s complicated and seems to relate to reimbursements for things like inspections, maintenance of meters, data lines, etc. None of the issues relate to us as a Generation Partner, it’s more of a headache for the people involved in installations at this point. However, the fact that NES and TVA can’t resolve their differences is keeping us from firing up our system.

I’m not the only one in this holding pattern, either; there are quite a few of us Generation Partners ready to start feeding the grid with clean, green energy but we haven’t signed our contracts yet.

So to deal with us, NES has told us we can sign on under the old Generation Partner contract: this one offers a $500 signing bonus and a flat rate of 15-cents per kWh generated. When (if) NES signs its new contract with TVA, NES will offer us reimbursement under the new rate structure (base + 12-cents), and sign a new 10-year contract with us.

This may sound like a good compromise but it’s not. For one thing, we are out the extra $500 in the signing bonus. And, here’s the real kicker: TVA told me all Generation Partners have to convert to the new contract by Sept. 30 or we are SOL. But Generation Partners have little to do with whether or not we can sign the new contract, that’s between TVA and their distributors! So why penalize us?! I’m ready to sign the new contract now, today, right this second. But I can’t because NES hasn’t climbed on board yet.

So, worst-case scenario, NES could drag its heels and not sign a contract by Sept. 30 and we Generation Partners are left out of TVA’s new rate structure for good. And right now, neither NES nor TVA nor anyone else can tell me when the two parties will come to terms. I could sign the old contract today and tomorrow NES and TVA will have resolved their differences and I’m out $500 for nothing. Or, I could wait, missing out on months of prime summertime solar power generation, only to arrive at a Sept. 30 deadline with nothing to show for it.

I’m not meaning to portray anyone as the bad guy here because both TVA and NES have been really great about answering my questions and trying to be as helpful as they can under the circumstances. But TVA gave its distributors a year to figure this out, and I’ve been told there are still 33 issues that need to be resolved.

Here’s the deal: I’m just a tiny little cog in the great wheel of the new energy economy, but if I could hit a snag this early in the game, it doesn’t bode well for the future. So figure it out, guys and gals.

The governor of Tennessee is seeking major investment in solar energy for the state. We’ve heard talk of Tennessee becoming the “Silicon Valley of Solar.” I just have to say: that ain’t never going to happen as long as major players like TVA and NES can’t come to terms on a Generation Partners contract after an entire year. I mean come on, people: this just looks bad.

Mr. Beale and I are not doing this for the money. We are doing this for Tennessee, for the economy, for the environment. We are doing this so I don’t have another toxic coal ash spill or leveled mountain on my conscience. That said, we don’t wish to be penalized because TVA and NES can’t figure out a contract.

Solar panels are not cheap, and unlike some states, there’s precious little in the way of incentives currently offered to residential producers like us here in Tennessee. We held up our end, investing an enormous chunk of our own money to begin generating clean solar power. Now I expect my “partners” to hold up their end and hammer out a freaking contract already.

So get down to it, folks. Time’s a wasting.

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