Use of solar power in Greeneville Light & Power System electrical grid took a step forward Monday.

The Greeneville Energy Authority board of directors voted to authorize GLPS President and CEO Chuck Bowlin to sign power purchase agreements with Silicon Ranch, a solar energy company.

Although the terms have been determined, Silicon Ranch prefers to have separate agreements for each location it may use to generate solar energy for a local power company, Bowlin explained.

This board’s authorization allows Bowlin to sign the agreements once those locations have been set. An agreement that GLPS signed earlier this year with the Tennessee Valley Authority allows the local power company to generate 5% of the electricity it distributes. The agreement allows a utility the option to invest in what it would need to generate power or partner with a third party that would produce the electricity.

To generate that amount of power, Silicon Ranch estimates it may need two to four sites for solar panels, Bowlin said. Started in Tennessee in 2011, Silicon Ranch is working with more than 35 local power utilities in the TVA region to provide them with solar power.

Matt Brown, a representative of Silicon Ranch, told the board the company has begun an exploration of possible sites in the county for location of the solar panels it uses in generation of electricity, and is working toward its goal to be able to provide power to GLPS in 2022.

In addition to looking for sites that are topographically suited for the panels, Brown said the company is also seeking locations which would be suitable economically and logistically to connect to Greeneville Light & Power’s power distribution system.

SOLAR AGREEMENT

In October, the board gave authorization for Bowlin to sign a letter of intent signifying the power company’s interest in solar power and giving him authority to negotiate with Silicon Ranch to provide that energy.

“Everybody likes the idea of providing green power,” Bowlin told the board.

However, there are considerations of costs involved, reliability of the power source and how it can benefit GLPS customers, he said.

While an investment in solar power may not have a good return for an individual residential or commercial customer, data shows that producing solar power on the scale needed by a utility can be of economic benefit, Bowlin said.

Chris Mitchell, a rate consultant, recommended that Greeneville Light & Power explore the opportunity provided by the TVA agreement that would allow purchase of solar power. Based on 2019 power usage by GLPS customers, Mitchell has estimated the utility could have saved more than $600,000 in costs if the proposed solar power agreement had been in place last year.

Those cost savings would benefit customers by delaying rate increases due to rising costs for GLPS to purchase power, Bowlin has explained.

Reliability of power sources is not a concern due to a clause in the TVA agreement that it will provide all the power that a utility needs, ensuring that the TVA will make up any difference if the 5% local generation point is not reached, he said.

Based on the benefits that purchasing the solar power from Silicon Ranch would provide Greeneville Light & Power and its customers and a reliability of power sources guaranteed by TVA, Bowlin said he would recommend the agreements for the solar power purchase.

The agreements will operate much like what the local power company has with TVA. Silcon Ranch would have responsibility for the facilities and their operation that generate the electricity and then distribute it to a connection with the GLPS distribution system.

OTHER ACTION

In other business, the board approved the purchase of transformers of various sizes for a total of $169,962.

The transformers will replenish the stock the utility keeps on hand to provide new customers or for replacement when aging equipment comes offline or is damaged due to a vehicular accident or weather. The utility also refurbishes transformers taken offline unless they are damaged beyond repair.

Bowlin said that thus far this year, there has been an increase in new customers over past years, which has led to the need to replenish the transformer stocks. Thus far in 2020, there have been 311 new customers added compared to totals of around 170 new customers in the past few years.

The utility also continues to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. Fifteen employees have contracted the virus or been placed in quarantine because of close contact with someone else who has the illness, Bowlin said, although only two are out currently.

The customer service lobby was closed at the end of October and November, but has reopened, Bowlin said.

Efforts are also continuing to raise matching funds for the second round of $15,000 in coronavirus relief funding TVA has provided to Greeneville Light & Power. The first round of funding has been used to provide assistance to customers through the COVID-19 Community Care Fund in partnership with the United Way.

For the second round, GLPS is partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Greeneville and Greene County to support the expansion of its educational outreach, Bowlin explained.

In addition, customers continue to be assisted with their monthly power bills by the Greeneville-Greene County Community Ministries through the utility’s Community H.E.L.P. (Heating, Electric, Lighting Project). In this program, participating customer bills are rounded up to the next dollar and the amount between the amount and that dollar provided to Community H.E.L.P.

Last month, more than $12,000 was donated to the program and about $3,000 provided to the Wood Ministry, Bowlin reported. The Community Ministries’ board of directors voted last year to provide a percentage of the Community H.E.L.P. funds to the ministry, which provides assistance to its clients who heat with wood.

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