SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Climate Change Impacts on Tennessee


This webpage is adapted from our fact sheet, “Climate Change Impacts on Tennessee.” Click here to download the fact sheet.


Power plant pollution

Over the last decade, TN coal-fired power plants produced an average of 47,700,000 tons of carbon pollution each year.

The earth’s climate is changing because of excess carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere, generated when fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas are burned. This extra carbon traps more heat, like a greenhouse, which explains why 2000 to 2009 was the hottest decade ever recorded and there have been over 390 consecutive months with hotter-than-average global temperatures. Modern civilization developed in a stable climate and we have built our economy and way of life accordingly. Changes to our climate means that we are facing emerging hardships and vulnerabilities as the impacts of climate change unfold.

Some impacts from climate change include extreme storms, heat waves, and drought. These impacts have consequences for public health, safety, the economy, the environment, and our way of life.

Fortunately, we can protect against the worst impacts by limiting carbon pollution with energy efficiency and using more clean renewable energy, like solar and wind instead.


It is difficult to link any one event directly to climate change, and it is important to recognize that most climate data is regional or even global in scope. However, decades of expert research and centuries of historical records can be compared with recent trends to illustrate how climate change is already impacting parts of the Southeastern United States. These impacts, combined with possible future impacts, are both cause for concern and the imperative for action.

Extreme weather is becoming more common in a warmer world, including floods, such as the pictured May 2010 flood of Nashville and Middle and West Tennessee.

The devastating May 2010 flooding of Nashville, Middle and West Tennessee is an example of the kinds of extreme weather becoming more common in a warming world.

  • Hotter temperatures also means increased incidence or severity of drought events. The 2007 Tennessee drought was the worst in recorded history. One town (Orme, TN) completely ran out of water and 500,000 Tennesseans were forced to comply with mandatory water restrictions. Droughts like these may occur with more frequency in a warmer climate.
  • Drought and heat waves have a particularly negative effect on Tennessee’s dirty, high-risk energy generation resources. During heatwaves—and high electricity demands—TVA’s Brown’s Ferry nuclear plant and Cumberland coal plant have repeatedly had to cut generation due to the short supply of water. Both nuclear and coal plants require millions of gallons of water a day to operate. If Tennessee continues to rely on water-intensive, dirty power plants, dramatic drops in power production during heatwaves are projected to triple in frequency by 2060.
  • Farmers are expected to lose more crops to heat stress, drought and unreliable winter weather, which is expected to become more frequent in a warmer world. For example the entire state of Tennessee was designated a disaster area twice in 2007—once for the “Easter freeze,” and once for the crippling drought.




Clean energy, such as solar, wind, and energy efficiency, produces no pollution and provides jobs in our struggling economy. Studies show that the United States could easily generate 80% of its power from clean sources by 2050. Energy efficiency can dramatically reduce the amount of power we use in our homes and businesses and lower our bills. Solar power is unlimited energy from the sun, free for the taking if our state policies are revised to level the playing field between solar and more traditional, polluting power sources like coal and nuclear. Meanwhile, Tennessee has a huge wind resource that could be tapped for affordable and reliable power.


Some energy sources have greater risks associated with their use. Old, inefficient and dirty coal power plants must be retired to reduce levels of pollution that trigger asthma attacks and heart and lung disease, put mercury in our water, and cause climate change. Nuclear power plants emit less carbon than coal but are extremely expensive to build, require large amounts of water to operate, generate dangerous, highly radioactive waste and can have devastating consequences should an accident occur. Clean energy is a positive alternative to these risky energy sources.

Take Action Button


1) Find and Contact Your Legislators – National and state-level climate and energy policies are imperative to ensure protection from the worst impacts of climate change and to secure the benefits of clean energy. Find your Washington, D.C. and Nashville legislators’ contact information here, and contact them to tell them we must lead the way in climate and energy policies that:

  • Invest in job-creating energy efficiency and clean energy
  • Limit carbon pollution
  • Hold polluters accountable and end fossil-fuel subsidies
  • Preserve and strengthen the Clean Air Act

2) Support Our Work & Become a Member of SACE Today – Be a part in helping Tennessee usher in the clean energy economy, clean up our environment, and securing the world we ought to pass down to future generations. Support from our members is critical to success in SACE’s work. Become a member today here.

Click here to learn more about energy in the Southeast.

Click here for more ways to take action.