Grid-Tie Solar for TVA Co-Op Customers

The TVA administers the solar program. Here is a link to the TVA website explaining the program. The process starts by making application with your electric utility and Co-Ops are not required to participate. Make application, get the information and study it well to understand how this works. You can’t connect a solar system to the utility without a signed agreement (usually lasting 10 years) between your utility and the TVA. Your solar installer must also be qualified and be approved by the TVA.
Let’s start with a few facts about grid-tie solar. First, a grid-tie solar system is grid-dependent. It will not work if the grid is down.
Second, solar is fully capable of offsetting every kWh your house consumes. However, eliminating or reducing your power bill is another matter. There was a time when net metering was popular in parts of the US. Net metering provides for an even exchange of kWh through the meter. In other words, the utility pays you the same thing you pay them. Consider that a TVA utility purchases a kWh at one rate and sells it to you at a higher rate that allows them to remain in business and make a reasonable profit, as regulated by the Public Service Commission. If they pay you the “retail” rate for a kWh, they will lose money when they sell it to your neighbor because of the losses involved in moving energy. This loss is actually paid by the rate payer. Net metering is not a good deal for the utility nor the non-solar owning rate payer. I’m not aware of a single utility in Alabama that uses net metering. Legislated net metering made solar grid-tie systems very popular, but I think they will eventually go the way of the dinosaur.
The TVA does offer options that accommodate those that just want to be green and those that want to lower their power bill via solar. Let’s talk about the latter.
Grid-tie solar systems generate kWh, the exact thing you purchase from the utility. Every kWh your system produces goes to one of two places. If you consume it, it offsets a kWh that you would have otherwise purchased. If you don’t consume it, the TVA purchases it for the offset rate. If you consume a kWh your solar system produces, you save something close to 15 cents. If you don’t, TVA purchases it for around 4.5 cents. This huge disparity tends to keep the grid-tie systems connected to a TVA Co-Op relatively small. A larger system will produce a lot of 4.5 cent kWh, making a large system less profitable than one designed around your average summer and winter consumption.
Solar water heating offers another way to reduce your power bill. A solar water heater costs less than a small grid-tie solar system and breaks even in about half the time. Solar water heaters do not require a contract or a permission slip with the utility or TVA. If lowering your power bill via solar is your goal, I suggest you start by considering a solar water heater. Watch the video linked here for more details.