The Tennessee Valley Authority announced this week that it has contracted for 484 megawatts of solar power in the past two months, part of its push to expand its clean energy portfolio and reduce its reliance on coal power. 

The awards announced this week, which include one 200-megawatt solar system paired with a 50 megawatts/200 megawatt-hour battery system, will increase the TVA’s share of solar generation by 44 percent. The seven-state federal power agency gets less than 3 percent of its power from wind and solar today, compared to 39 percent nuclear, 26 percent natural gas, 21 percent coal-fired, and 10 percent hydropower. 

But TVA’s long-range integrated resource plan (IRP) calls for adding between 1,500 and 8,000 megawatts of solar by 2028, along with up to 2,400 megawatts of energy storage, to serve the utilities and customers it supplies across seven states. By 2038, TVA could see as much as 14 gigawatts of solar on its system, a rate of increase that equates to roughly 700 megawatts per year over the next 20 years. 

The winning projects announced Tuesday were selected out of a total of 3,700 megawatts of proposals submitted to an April 2019 RFP for TVA’s newly launched Green Invest program, which is aimed at providing large corporate power purchasers with renewable energy. It’s modeled on the work TVA has done with big data center customers like Facebook and Google, which are demanding 100-percent clean energy options from utilities across the Southeast.

The first Green Invest project, a 35-megawatt solar system developed by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch in partnership with Vanderbilt University and municipal utility Nashville Electric Service, was announced in January. Silicon Ranch will also be developing a solar project of up to 80 megawatts in Madison County, Tennessee.

Florida-based developer Origis Energy won two contracts, including a 100-megawatt solar farm in Obion County, Tenn., and a 200-megawatt solar system with 200 megawatt-hours of batteries in Lowndes County, Mississippi. Spanish developer OPD Energy will develop a fifth, 69-megawatt project in Simpson County, Kentucky. 

TVA, which provides power across Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia, has also pushed ahead on closing uncompetitive and aging coal-fired power plants, despite opposition from the industry and the Trump administration. Last week it followed through on an April 2019 decision to close its last operating unit of the Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky.    

TVA’s investments in utility-scale solar have come as it reduced compensation for energy generated by customer-owned solar panels, a move that prompted some backlash from rooftop solar advocates. TVA justified the shift in incentives based on the lower cost of utility-scale solar, a thesis echoed by other Southeast U.S. utilities including Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and Florida Power & Light, which have been investing heavily in large-scale solar.