On any given day, roughly 3,100 solar panels at the new Allen Natural Gas Plant capture the sun’s light so that it can be converted into usable electricity, and Rhodes College representatives—Brian Foshee, Tim Lucas, and Kyle Webb—recently got an up-close view of them. They also were treated to a guided tour of the plant. That’s because Rhodes is the largest purchaser of the new Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) associated with the site’s solar generation and made available through Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) partnership with Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW).
Rhodes opted to purchase 60 percent of the available RECs, and Olympus Surgical Technologies America purchased the remaining 40 percent. As owners, the companies can state that an equal portion of their 2018 electricity use is from the new solar array.
“Rhodes is very pleased to participate in this new solar opportunity, especially with the renewable energy being produced locally,” said Foshee, who is director of physical plant. “TVA has historically produced renewable energy—wind, solar and biogas—within the Tennessee valley, but with renewable energy now being produced in our own backyard, Rhodes continues to have a positive impact on the Memphis economy by spending renewable energy dollars locally. MLGW and TVA have been great partners in Rhodes pursuit of renewable energy.”
Located on 500 acres five miles southwest of downtown Memphis, the Allen Natural Gas Plant replaced the old Allen Fossil Plant and went commercial April 30, 2018. According to TVA, the natural gas turbines are among the most efficient in the world, the site generates enough electricity to power 500,000 homes/businesses, and the one megawatt solar installation is the largest TVA-owned solar site in the region. The panels produce enough renewable energy to power about 120 homes annually.
During the tour, Foshee, Lucas, and Webb viewed a computer screen that showed the solar array’s generation statistics. One graph, which showed the day’s solar generation as a series of frequent peaks and valleys, illustrated how passing clouds instantly reduce solar power output. TVA noted that those fluctuations make renewable power challenging to integrate into the electricity supply.
How exactly does the REC program work? Becky Williamson, MLGW’s strategic marketing coordinator, explains: “RECs exist because most renewable generation sites simply deliver electricity into the overall power grid, where it mixes with other power from non-renewable sources and is delivered to homes and buildings. As such, there is no way to know which electric current is ‘green’ and which is not. Hence, the industry created a RECs market, where generators can separate the power from the ‘green’ attribute and sell RECs to entities that want to claim renewable electricity use.”
For years, Rhodes has been doing its part to support renewable energy. Since 2008, it has participated in another one of TVA/MLGW’s programs called Green Power Switch. As the largest local purchaser in that program, approximately 3 percent of campus energy use was from renewable sources.
In addition, TVA has committed to investing $8 billion over the next 20 years to grow generation from renewable energy resources, including solar, wind, hydro and bio gas. The effort is part of TVA’s initiative to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2020. TVA’s power supply is currently 54 percent carbon-free.