JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority says a new solar power cooperative in West Tennessee is illegal, while supporters of the project accuse TVA of trying to maintain a monopoly.

Organizers of the Jackson Sustainability Cooperative are asking the Tennessee Public Utilities Commission to either grant a certificate to allow the new energy distribution system or grant an exemption from regulations that bar independent power distribution within TVA’s service territory, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

An exemption would help the cooperative secure financing and memberships from manufacturers. The company is promising to deliver clean and cheap power to supplement TVA-generated electricity with a $67 million solar farm and battery storage hub.

The new co-op plans to go after up to 38 major industrial and commercial customers near the proposed solar farm in Jackson. That would limit revenues paid to TVA and its local distributor, the Jackson Energy Authority.

TVA President Jeff Lyash said the network that provides power to 153 local power companies has been key to keeping rates affordable and power reliable. Allowing startup energy suppliers to deliver power to selected customers could weaken the TVA model, which is designed to serve all customers at all times across the region, Lyash said.

TVA, Jackson Energy Authority and the Tennessee Municipal Electric Membership Association have all filed objections to the proposal.

Teresa Cobb, general counsel for the Jackson Energy Authority, said the proposal violates state law that designates electricity service in Jackson be provided by the city-owned utility, which has an agreement to purchase its power from TVA.

The authority is developing plans to add 25 megawatts of solar power generation and there are 25 to 30 additional solar projects under development by customers, said Monte Cooper Sr., vice president of electric distribution at the Jackson Energy Authority. That power would be distributed within the existing TVA system.

“TVA has a pretty wide array of solar programs for private entities, even for for-profit vendors,” he said.

Michael Miner, a senior partner at SynEnergy Inc. in Hampton, Virginia, and chief operating officer for the Jackson Sustainability Cooperative, said projects like theirs that distribute directly to customers are needed to battle global warming and also aid industry and jobs in Jackson. He said TVA and the Jackson Energy Authority don't want competition.

“When you are encroaching on their turf even when you have a sustainable and renewable project, there is going to be stonewalling,” Miner said. “Any competitor to their monopoly will cause them consternation.”

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Executive Director Stephen Smith agreed, calling TVA's opposition to the project “devastating.”

Smith said the microgrid and solar array proposed by the cooperative represents a significant part of the future of America’s power generation as electricity moves away from central source generation from major coal or nuclear power plants and toward a distributed model with smaller renewable energy generation and storage.

The head of the United Nations last year called for “immediate, rapid and large-scale” cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming and avert climate disaster.

The cooperative filed its initial petition in May. On Dec. 23, state regulators asked both supporters and opponents of the new cooperative to try to reach an agreement on what the applicant must submit in support of the proposed development before the Public Utilities Commission begins to hear the case.

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