AUGUST 1, 2018—Nestled near an elementary and high school, in Shelbyville, Tennessee, stands a farm. This is no ordinary farm—it is where community solar started in the Tennessee Valley in 2012.
“What grew out of this farm is the community solar vision for the Valley,” says Carol Garrette, Duck River Electric Membership Corporation member services manager. “We had a number of our members going to the expense of putting solar on their homes. We knew there had to be a better way to provide members low-cost, renewable energy.”
Garrette explains that many of their members are environmentally conscious but they did not have the money to invest in solar for their homes—upward of $15,000 to $25,000 at the time.
“The advantage to community solar is that you don’t have to invest thousands of dollars on a system,” said Garrette. “We do all the work for you.”
Build It and They Will Come
Duck River’s better way took off, bringing community solar to their 71,000 members (at that time) across parts of 16 Tennessee counties.
“You don’t even have to own a home to participate,” says Garrette. According to her, community solar is a solar power plant run by a local power company whose electricity is shared by more than one household. Duck River’s members could invest in panels and receive equivalent energy production back on their power bills. “Our members participate in solar power without the expense of installing solar themselves.”
Buying into the Duck River’s solar farm was on a first come, first served basis. And they sold out quickly.
University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., is one of the 111 Duck River members who invested in the solar farm.
At the University of the South, investment in renewable energy has been a part of the campus’s energy plan for over a decade. “Adding Duck River’s renewable generation to our portfolio is assisting us in meeting our sustainability goals, which includes exploring community solar options,” shares Rachel Petropoulos, Energy Specialist for the campus. “We have been supporters—through TVA’s Green Power Switch—and are currently active in TVA Green Power Providers, so having another outlet to extend our commitment was welcomed.”
Valley Community Solar Growing
What started with humble beginnings in middle Tennessee has now been adopted by communities across the Tennessee Valley.
Unlike a private solar system on a house which only benefits one resident, community solar farms can benefit thousands of residents.
“Right now about 1.4 million consumers can choose community solar in the Valley,” says Tammy Bramlett, TVA director of Business Development and Renewables. “We’re proud to promote community solar because a very few number of solar farms can provide renewable energy access to a large number of people.”
TVA reports that there are currently 10 community solar facilities operating or in development across the Tennessee Valley, providing solar power access to about 14 percent of the region’s population. Bramlett said that her team often gets questions from communities who want more information about community solar.
“Solar power has a bright future in the Valley,” says Bramlett. She should know, because TVA has committed to invest about $8 billion in renewable energy over the next 20 years.