Following the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) most recent Board of Directors meeting, protesters as well as members of the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement gathered outside TVA’s Knoxville headquarters to press the company on what they said was its lack of transparency, as well as key environmental and renewable energy issues.
Inside HQ and prior to the rally, the TVA Board approved an extension of the Pandemic Recovery Credit through fiscal year 2022 and requested a proposal to explore the potential of a further extension through 2023. TVA’s pandemic recovery credit provides a monthly 2.5% wholesale power cost credit to each of the local power companies TVA serves, TVA directly served customers, and large customers served by local power companies.
For fiscal 2021, the credit will be about $200 million and extending the program through fiscal 2022 is expected to provide an additional $220 million.
The Board also extended the Community Care Fund into the new fiscal year, providing up to $5 million to support groups that help those most in need in local communities.
TVA, in its meeting notes, did a bit of back-patting with regards to the company’s reliability during times of high demand this past February and this summer, as well as the company’s emission reduction efforts.
In the notes, TVA reported that through the end of June, nearly 60% of its energy was delivered from carbon-free sources, and that the power provider had achieved carbon emissions 63% below 2005 levels, as of the end of fiscal year 2020.
Heart of conflict
The same renewable energy and emission reduction efforts that TVA lauded were at the heart of the issues raised by interest groups, ranging from energy justice to racial justice, TVA power customers, and even some of TVA’s member power companies.
The main sentiments expressed during the rally revolved around TVA’s handling of coal ash cleanup work, specifically the more than 50 workers who died, allegedly from complications related to that work, and scores of other health conditions. The protesters also called for TVA to decarbonize more rapidly than current plans envision. And , they called for the company to establish virtual listening sessions and participation while the Board meetings remain virtual due to the pandemic.
According to one source, TVA supervisors told coal ash cleanup workers not to wear masks while cleaning up the spill because they didn’t want to alarm residents.
Recently, a coalition of 80 groups called on the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to release a roadmap detailing how TVA will transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030. While TVA touts 63% emission reductions since 2005 and has recently begun embracing renewables, the federally owned electric utility corporation currently has no plan to achieve emission-free power.
Included in the group’s letter to DOE was a calculation that TVA’s most current resource plan shows that the entity will still be producing more than 34 million tons of CO2 annually in 2038. That level falls short of the Biden Administration’s goal of decarbonizing the U.S. electricity sector by 2035.
TVA recently announced plans to add 1,500 MW of new gas generation to its resource mix to replace coal units that are being retired. That solution has drawn fire both from the groups that petitioned DOE and post-Board meeting rally attendants.
Recently, a number of TVA member power companies asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to break their supply deal with TVA, alleging that the federal entity violated the Federal Power Act.
The companies allege that their supply deal with TVA is discriminatory as long as TVA has a generation portfolio skewed toward fossil fuels and relatively lacking in renewables. They are asking to be freed from their supply deals so they can pursue electricity agreements from renewable resources.
Call for transparency
Since February 2020, when TVA moved all of its board meetings virtual in light of the pandemic, the entity hasn’t held a public listening session, though legislative bodies and government agencies across the country adapted.
“This is unacceptable for an entity that is meant to be responsive to the public it serves,” said Knoxville City Councilmember Amelia Parker in a prepared statement. She said that city council has held virtual public comment sessions and called on TVA to “do the same for the public.”
When reached for comment, a TVA spokesperson told pv magazine that the entity has maintained numerous ways for the public to interact. One such conversation took place at the August 18 meeting, when the Board stated its intent to resume in-person public meetings and listening sessions as soon as public health conditions allowed.
On August 4, several organizations in the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement hosted “The People’s TVA Hearing,” a virtual public hearing during which Tennessee Valley residents vocalized the issues that would become the foundation for Wednesday’s rally.
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