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Poll shows increase in solar demand

By Stephanie Carson • Updated Dec 28, 2017 at 11:00 AM

NASHVILLE – Eighty-one percent of Tennessee voters support solar energy in the Volunteer State and even more want it installed on their own homes. 

The polling data was released Monday from the conservative polling firm, North Star Opinion Research. The survey was conducted among voters from a variety of ages, races, genders and geographic locations. 

Brian Bickel, who sits on the board of the Tennessee Solar Industries Association, said the results confirm what the industry is seeing.

“I’m not surprised by the support for solar at all,” he said. “I think, in this day and age most people want to see more of it. They recognize the value of clean and renewable energy. I think they expect their utility to support them in their efforts to generate clean power on site.”

Bickel said the confirmation of public support comes at a time when the Tennessee Valley Authority is making solar less economic and accessible for customers. The regional power provider does have a program allowing customers to sell up to 50 kilowatts of green energy back through their local power provider in the service area.

In addition, the survey showed people want to pay for their electric bill based on usage, versus a fixed fee, which is what TVA proposed earlier this year. 

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the agency proposes policies that would charge people regardless of energy use.

“What TVA wants you to do is pay whether you use electricity or not, and they’re the only business that I know of that wants you to have to pay something whether you use their product or not, and it’s really grossly unfair,” said Smith. 

According to industry estimates, solar panels can cost around $20,000 or more to install, but Bickel said property owners are making an investment that will ultimately pay for itself.

“There’s obviously the cost to the system, and there’s a return on that cost, but there is no return at all on just continuing to pay your electric bill,” he said. 

Tennessee ranks 20th across the country in terms of installed solar capacity, but Bickel and others said with 200 days of sun on average each year, the state has the potential to harness much more energy from the sun.

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