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TVA Announces Cap Reached for Solar Power Purchasing Program

Press release from the Tennessee Environmental Council; May 1, 2013:

TVA has announced it has reached a “cap” and will not purchase power from new midsized solar power generation systems that small businesses, farmers, and homeowners want to install in the Tennessee Valley. TVA’s Green Power Providers has a “cap” on the amount of electricity it will buy based on the size of the system. Systems which generate between 10 kilowatts and 50 kilowatts will no longer be able to sell electricity at a favorable price to TVA until, and if, the program is reopened at some unspecified future date. The program may not be reopened.

“The capacity limits for this segment of TVA’s renewable energy programs for all of 2013 were met in less than four months. An April 24th press release from TVA touts the program as being very successful, but TVA met their target for these programs much earlier than expected due to poor planning. TVA approved over 250 small-scale, renewable energy projects for their Green Power Providers and Solar Solutions Initiative programs in 2013, but the demand and potential is significantly higher,” said John McFadden, Executive Director of the Tennessee Environmental Council.

The Green Power Providers and Solar Solutions programs are a significant driver for mid-size solar installations in Tennessee. Without these incentives, industry leaders believe the losses to the growing solar industry in Tennessee will cost jobs and money for citizens and businesses. Tennessee, which has climbed to 14th in installed solar capacity in the United States, will fall behind instead of gaining ground.

Lightwave Solar, a Nashville-based solar photovoltaic (PV) system design and installation firm has laid off two employees in 2013 because of softening demand. Gary Wolf of Sundog Solar laments, “If Sundog Solar can’t sign up another customer until January of 2014, I’ll be out of business before the end of the year and my crew, trained in solar at a Tennessee state school, will be out of jobs. An annual program that lasts four months has at least one obvious problem – size. The caps don’t respond to market demand, they force homeowners to compete with commercial interests for solar space, and they undermine job creation and steady employment in one of the nation’s fastest growing sectors.”

“The ill-conceived construction of TVA’s incentive programs for small and mid-sized solar PV systems has created an unnecessary stop and go situation. Sadly, it is homeowners, small businesses and regional solar installers that are disproportionately impacted,” says Michael Levesque, Chief Operations Officer of Sustainable Future, in Knoxville. “Since these programs are the only programs for solar in Tennessee it restricts private citizens and businesses from installing solar power plants. No one is going to build a solar system and provide power to TVA for free, and why should they? People seeking some control over their energy future have no solar alternative.”

“Reaching the TVA Green Power Providers program capacity so early in the year has only negative effects on solar businesses and solar clients. This program should be available to TVA customers all year long,” adds Ed Zubko, Chief Operations Officer, Green Earth Solar, LLC. “Some of the benefits of the TVA Green Power Providers program to customers are: reduced tax liability, predictable return on investment for the more than 25 year life of the system, saving money on electricity for over 25 years, reduction in the amount of CO2 required to operate a business or residence, support for Tennessee companies with some Tennessee made products available.”

Tennessee Chapter Sierra Club Repower America Chair, Mary Mastin, commented, ”It makes no sense for TVA to say it has a cap on how much fuel-cost-free electricity it will buy from folks who pay to have a solar system installed at their, home, business or farm. If folks want to dig into their savings to build generation capacity so TVA does not need to borrow money and build power plants and burn coal or uranium we all win. Solar generates no air or water pollution, no coal ash, and no danger from radiation and nuclear waste. TVA has withdrawn support for valley residents and business who want to invest their own money to go solar and this is contrary to TVA’s mission and goals”

The April 24 TVA press release can be found at: http://www.tva.com/news/releases/aprjun13/2013_renewable.html

Kisber Doesn’t Recall if Amazon Deal was in Writing

Former Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber said Saturday night he does not remember if the controversial Amazon.com tax arrangement with the state was ever put in writing.

The question of whether the Amazon deal was actually put on paper or was the result of a handshake deal has been one of many questions surrounding the agreement, which was made during former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, in which Kisber served.

The Tennessee Department of Revenue commissioner at the time, Charles Trost, has previously refused to comment on specifics of the Amazon arrangement, as has Bredesen.

Amazon struck a deal with Tennessee in the waning weeks of Bredesen’s second term, where the Internet sales giant would build two distribution plants in the state and not have to collect sales taxes on its transactions — as opposed to the collection of the sales tax by the many bricks-and-mortar retailers in the state.

Some lawmakers, including chairs of both the House and Senate finance committees, have criticized the deal with Amazon, saying it gives Amazon an unfair competitive advantage.

Amazon has committed to building two distribution centers in southeast Tennessee, one each in Bradley and Hamilton counties, where the company agreed to provide more than 1,000 jobs. The Bredesen team made the deal under the presumption that if it did not offer the incentive on tax collections, Amazon might take its distribution centers — and the jobs that go with them — to another state, like Georgia. Amazon, it was recently reported, has offered 1,500 people jobs at the Bradley and Hamilton centers.

Amazon recently announced a third Tennessee distribution center, in Lebanon in Wilson County.

The issue of transparency on letter rulings — written statements on tax issues for specific taxpayers — from the Department of Revenue has risen during the Amazon debate. When lawmakers considered the Amazon deal during the legislative session this year, one of their questions was whether Amazon’s agreement was ever formally put on paper.

When asked Saturday night at the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville if the Amazon agreement was in writing, Kisber gave a long pause.

“I don’t actually remember,” he said, then taking another pause. “I really don’t. I don’t know if we got an MOU (memorandum of understanding). That’s so far back now, in terms of what I’ve been dealing with, I don’t … I don’t honestly remember. I would have to defer to the current administration.

“I remember the discussions. I remember everything we discussed, but I don’t remember if it got … if there was a written agreement or not.”

Kisber and former Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr have launched Silicon Ranch Corporation, a solar power development business, since leaving office. Bredesen is chairman of the operation.

Richard Roberts, current revenue commissioner under Gov. Bill Haslam, has refused to comment on Amazon’s deal, citing policies that prevent him from discussing agreements with private taxpayers.

Kisber said the project was in the works for many months and that there were multiple discussions involved in the deal. He recalled people on the site selection team, both on the consultant side and the company side, in the dealings with Amazon.

Haslam has announced his administration is talking to Amazon about a long-term arrangement in which Amazon would, in fact, collect the sales taxes, a development that has extended the debate over the issue and led to renewed discussion about the Bredesen deal. Haslam has said there would be openness on the long-term arrangement if and when one is completed.

Haslam had been elected, but not sworn in, when Bredesen informed him of his plans with Amazon. Haslam said he would agree to honor Bredesen’s commitment.

Kisber said the issue, as it was explained to him, involved third-party handling of the products being sold.

“I was told we were not talking about Amazon books and CDs. We were talking about companies for whom Amazon provides fulfillment services through their Internet platform,” Kisber said. “There are hundreds of companies that you buy from if you use Amazon that is not being sold by Amazon but is being fulfilled (by Amazon).

“And Tennessee has other companies that provide that type of service as well. This was consistent in my thinking with the services of those types of companies.”

Kisber complimented Haslam’s handling of the issue.

“Whenever an economic development project becomes political theater, it impacts the state’s reputation for business,” Kisber said. “And I commend Governor Haslam for working to resolve the issue and tone down the rhetoric so Tennessee can focus on its wonderful business climate and using that to attract projects to the state.”

Kisber attributed his inability to recall specific details on the Amazon deal to the passage of time since he worked for the State of Tennessee.

“I will be honest with you. I loved state government, and January 15 I left it. I have been focused on my business endeavors. Doing a start-up business is challenging enough,” Kisber said. “So I have been available if the current administration has any questions. But I have left that phase of my career.”

Kisber said he remembers Bredesen, Trost and Comptroller (Justin) Wilson being involved in the Amazon matter.

“As was the case on all projects, I was the lead for the state,” Kisber said.

He said there was unanimous concurrence on the rationale for the deal.

“I think most everyone involved was in complete agreement,” Kisber said. “We could get the jobs and not have the collections, or you could not get the jobs and not have the collections. The issue was one that was going to be resolved, in Governor Bredesen’s opinion and mine, that it was going to take a national solution.”

The concept of a national solution involves Congress acting in a way that would make the sales tax policies uniform among the states.

Kisber had been involved in the streamlined sales tax project that would bring all states in line under one agreement, going back to his days as a state legislator.

“I have been intimately involved and familiar with this issue from the very beginning,” he said. “And while we were advocating at that time, as a legislator, a common state solution, we all said the best solution would be a national solution, and I still believe the best solution is a national solution.”

There has been broad skepticism, however, that Congress would involve itself in the issue. A common belief is that forcing online retailers to collect sales taxes would make Congress appear to be advocating a new tax, even though such an act would only guarantee the collection of existing taxes. Others have argued that the issue would become so compelling for states collecting revenue that Congress would be forced to take action on their behalf.

Norris Tweets Dig at Dems on Solyndra Setback

Everything under the sun seems to be open to squabbles over jobs between Republicans and Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature. Now it’s solar panels.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris tweeted Tuesday night, “Solyndra’s shadow as Dems plan to tour Bredesen’s solar farm.” Norris linked to a recent Nashville Business Journal article noting that solar businesses either seem to be starting up or fading away.

Solyndra, based in Fremont, Calif., specializes in rooftop solar power systems. The company received a loan of $535 million in 2009 as part of the federal stimulus package and has been lauded by the Obama administration as an example of the nation’s energy future.

But the company has shut down, laid off hundreds of workers and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company also faces a federal investigation. The House Energy and Commerce oversight committee is scheduled to begin hearings on Solyndra on Wednesday, but Solyndra executives have postponed their appearance, citing the bankruptcy proceedings. A column posted Tuesday night on Politico called the Solyndra venture “corporate favoritism” and “Chicago-style deal-making.”

Norris picked up on the Solyndra news as a further dig at Democrats, who plan to make the West Tennessee Solar Farm with Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith part of their jobs tour Sept. 19-24.

The Solar Farm is on the first day of the Democrats’ tour, right after a tour of the vacant West Tennessee megasite. The solar farm, near Interstate 40, is part of the Volunteer State Solar Initiative of former Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Norris responded to the Democrats’ jobs tour announcement early this month by calling it the “Obama Apology Tour.”

But in February, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam expressed his pleasure that the U.S. Department of Energy had cleared the path for the solar farm, citing Tennessee’s commitment to a clean energy future.

“It’s a tangible demonstration that jobs and investment in this fast-growing sector of our economy are welcome in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a formal statement at the time.

In the same announcement, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said, “We’ve seen billions of dollars in capital investment in the solar industry alone in Tennessee. Coupled with the investments we’re seeing in energy efficiency, sustainable transportation and other forms of clean energy, the clean energy sector has the potential to truly become a bright spot for Tennessee in terms of job growth.”

Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander recently visited another Bredesen-linked project, the ethanol-from-switchgrass process in Vonore, Tenn., after which both the governor and the senator expressed support for the business but limited interest in subsidies for it.

Republicans Energized about Nuclear Power; Democrats by Green Jobs

All four Republican candidates for governor expressed support Wednesday for ramping up nuclear power as part of the state’s energy future in a forum before the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

Two Democratic candidates spoke in a separate session with members of the organization prior to the Republicans taking their turn at a downtown Nashville forum Wednesday. The Democrats were not asked about nuclear energy, but they addressed green energy as a vital part of the state’s economic future.

Republicans were asked specifically about coal and nuclear power. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, from Blountville, said the nation took a wrong turn on nuclear energy decades ago.

“One of the worst mistakes we’ve ever made in this country, in the late 1970s, was turning away from nuclear energy,” Ramsey said. “I had a chance to go to work building one of those plants, yet we mothballed that and we’ve gone backward. We need to look at nuclear energy, coal and natural gas. Green energy is all well and good, but it’s going to be a small percentage. We’ve got to know when you turn the light switch on that the lights will come on.”

Ramsey said the state should continue to rely on coal and find the best ways to obtain it.

“We have to rely on good science. I mentioned that before at a forum and got criticized,” Ramsey said. “I’m opposed to mountaintop removal, but at the same time there are ways of getting to that coal, and we need to do it. Alternative fuels are out there but a lot is down the road. We’ve got 100 years of reserves in the ground, and that’s going to help us be energy independent.”

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said the approach should be to pursue a policy that includes nuclear power, solar power and wind power.

“But we also need to use less,” Haslam said. “In Knoxville, we looked at our own energy use, not only as good stewards of the environment, but we saved money. As a country, we do have to consider producing more energy domestically.”

Bill Gibbons, Shelby County district attorney general, said a diverse energy policy is needed and said Gov. Phil Bredesen has taken the state in the right direction with energy technology.

“We also need nuclear energy. We’ve got to be realistic about that,” Gibbons said. “It’s a clean source of energy. We’ve got to have that as part of the mix.”

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga complimented the Obama administration for its openness to nuclear energy.

“We need to build another hundred nuclear reactors as a nation in the next 20 years,” Wamp said.

Referring to both President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Wamp said, “I’m frankly glad they realize if they want to meet any of their carbon goals they have to have an ambitious nuclear plan, and I think they’re starting to get that drift.”

Democrats Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, and Kim McMillan, a former state legislator and aide to Bredesen, pointed to the potential in jobs related to new investment in polycrystalline silicon in the state. Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie are making large investments in Tennessee. Both Democrats said the focus should be on attracting suppliers for those companies. Hemlock will be in Montgomery County, Wacker in Bradley County.

“We’re all very proud of the work Governor Bredesen has done in green energy,” McMillan said. “That is the job of the future. We need to bring in other satellite industries to feed off them. That’s where the growth will be. We can grow this economy by focusing on the green energy field. I’m excited about the possibility of becoming the Silicon Valley of the South.”

McWherter found a bright spot to talk about.

“In so many ways, Tennessee lags many other states, but I want to brag on Tennessee,” McWherter said. “We’re among the top three states in creating clean energy jobs. They are Oregon, Colorado and Tennessee. That’s a great accomplishment. That’s a position I want to see Tennessee stay in.

“The suppliers that will come in for Hemlock and Wacker will want to locate in a corridor between Clarksville and Chattanooga. What we’ve got to do is go out and actively recruit those supplying industries for those two signature companies. As your next governor, I assure you I will go after those industries very aggressively.”

McWherter said all Tennesseans are invested in those companies, given the tax incentives that attracted them to the state.

“I don’t care where you live in Tennessee, you’ve got an investment in Volkswagen and Wacker and Hemlock. You pay taxes, and we have given tax incentives. You’ve got an investment,” McWherter said.

“The way to get a return is to go out and capture these supplying industries. Once we get those industries in here, they will employ people,” he added. “That makes their employees consumers, and that helps the revenue situation for everyone across the state. It is imperative that the next governor knows to go out and recruit those supplying industries.”

Bredesen & Co. Entice Another Solar Company With Tax-Incentive Package

State of Tennessee press release, 21 Jan. 2010:

Confluence Solar Will Develop $200 Million Facility and Create 250 New Jobs in Clinton

NASHVILLE– Governor Phil Bredesen and Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber today joined senior leaders of Missouri-based Confluence Solar to announce that the company has selected Clinton, Tennessee as the home of their new manufacturing, warehousing and distribution facility.

The facility will produce premium quality mono-crystal silicon ingots for photovoltaic solar power generation. The company’s HiCz™ brand products increase the efficiency of solar cells by 15% or more, helping manufacturers of solar panels generate electricity more efficiently at a cost equivalent to or better than can be done using multi-crystal silicon ingot.

“Two years ago, we set upon a strategy to make Tennessee a significant player in the solar industry,” said Governor Bredesen. “Since then, we’ve seen more than two billion dollars in capital investment, more than a thousand jobs created, and, with the development of the Solar Farm and existing solar companies located in West Tennessee, we have truly created a statewide solar footprint. The announcement today by Confluence Solar is further proof that Tennessee is recognized as a leader in renewable energy and that a new economic engine is emerging in our state.”

“Tennessee’s nationally recognized business climate and their focused solar strategy along with Clinton’s close proximity to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the new Solar Institute made Tennessee the perfect location for our facility,” said Tom Cadwell, CEO and co-founder, Confluence Solar. “The number of solar industry leaders establishing operations here and the intellectual energy surrounding solar technology provides our company, current investors, and future investors with the confidence that Tennessee is the place Confluence Solar needs to be.”

“When both Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie, AG announced plans to locate in our state, we said Tennessee would be looking to expand the solar industry throughout the value chain,” said Commissioner Kisber. “The announcement today by Confluence Solar is proof that strategy is working and that Tennessee is now a major player in a growing industry.

The company will develop its facility on a 25 acre site in the Clinton I-75 Industrial Park on Frank Diggs Drive. Initial plans call for a 200,000 square foot building. With its investment, Confluence Solar will qualify for statutory incentive programs including FastTrack Job Training Assistance, FastTrack Infrastructure Development, the Tennessee Jobs Tax Credit and the Super Jobs Tax Credit among others.

Governor Bredesen and Commissioner Kisber were joined at the announcement by Confluence Solar’s co-founder John DeLuca, PhD, as well as Jim Highfill, the company’s chief operating officer. Dr. DeLuca, began his career in nuclear materials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the early 1970s and has more than 35 years of experience conducting research and development with 25 years experience specifically focused on silicon research. Highfill has 22 years of silicon manufacturing experience designing, developing and operating silicon manufacturing facilities throughout the world, including the start up of two overseas silicon manufacturing facilities.

“Confluence Solar’s investment represents an important step in the solar value chain that is growing across the Tennessee Valley,” said John Bradley, senior vice president of economic development for the Tennessee Valley Authority. “TVA and local service providers, such as Clinton Utilities Board, are pleased to partner with state and community leaders to assist companies as they grow and thrive.”

“We’re appreciative to Confluence Solar for this investment in Anderson County,” said Mayor Rex Lynch of Anderson County. “We’re committed to doing our best to provide this cutting edge company with a world class workforce.”

“Confluence Solar could not have chosen a better community in which to locate,” said Clinton Mayor Scott Burton. “Confluence Solar will make Clinton, Tennessee an important center for new solar technologies and will provide good paying jobs in the process.”

About Confluence Solar, Inc.

The company was founded in 2007 by silicon industry veterans with the purpose of bringing premium quality, low-cost single crystal silicon as a platform for high efficiency cell design to solar cell manufacturers. Learn more about the company at www.confluencesolar.com.