TVA has green options

April 25, 2009



While green power is taking hold of the country''s imagination, environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity in Columbus are few and far between, but customers of the Tennessee Valley Authority can sign up to receive some green power. 


Through a voluntary program called Green Power Switch, customers who receive their power through TVA can trade an additional $2 to $10 a month on their power bills for the knowledge their electricity is coming from renewable sources. 


"It does cost more, because quite frankly, renewables are more expensive," said Jon Turner of 4-County Electric Power Association. "You have to remember the Southeast is a terrible place for your classic renewables like wind and solar. We don''t get enough sustained wind and we don''t get enough uninterrupted sunshine." 


Todd Gale of Columbus Light and Water agrees with Turner''s assessment of the Southeast and green power options. 


"TVA is looking into some wind generation in the northeast part of the TVA area, but that''s the only place you can really harvest wind; and while we could do some solar here it isn''t like it is in the Southwest," he said. "It''s not as reliable as other methods of producing power, and solar technology isn''t as such yet where it''s really affordable." 


TVA has a modest wind harvesting facility consisting of 18 wind turbines on Buffalo Mountain near Oak Ridge, Tenn. The world''s largest wind farm, Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center located in Nolan County, Texas boasts more than 250 turbines. 


The push for green energy, said Turner, has put most power suppliers between a rock and a hard place. 


"No one wants to do anything harmful to the environment, but we also want to make sure any new programs are thought through in terms of the average electric bill payer," he said. 


It seems the only viable option for TVA customers outside burning facilities and nuclear plants is hydroelectric power generation, a power source which Gale said could have huge potential for the region. 


"Yes there are advantages to hydro," said Gale. "If they could harness that hydro and make it cost effective it would be wonderful. Besides nuclear power, that''s the cheapest and most reliable way to generate power." 


According to their Web site, TVA currently has 29 hydroelectric stations throughout the Tennessee River system, as well as four dams on the Little Tennessee River. The company also has eight dams on the Cumberland River which are maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 


While TVA does offer a program in which people can sell back solar power they generate from their homes, Gale points out the technology and the power market have not yet reached a point where privately maintained solar panels are economically viable. 


"I''ve always heard on a typical home the technology costs about $20,000, plus, you''ve got maintenance of the batteries and everything else," he said. "Remember, compared to other parts of the country, our power is relatively cheap, but if it gets up to what they''re paying in California and in the Northwest, then it might become a viable option." 


To find out more about Green Power Switch, contact your electric service provider.