SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
For the first time in its 83-year old history, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has an African-American woman leading its Board of Directors. It is also the first time someone from Memphis, which is home to TVA’s largest customer Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), has held the Board chair.
Lynn Evans was named as the new TVA Board Chair after the former TVA Board Chair, Joe Ritch, ended his term on January 3, 2017. In these polarizing times, we celebrate the fact that one of our largest utilities in the Southeast has appointed a qualified leader like Ms. Evans – and broken with history by appointing a woman to Board chair for the first time. As one local Memphis publication put it – Ms. Evans is “a ‘first’ on three fronts.”
Ms. Evans first joined the TVA board in January 2013 and previously served as the Chair of TVA’s Audit, Risk and Regulation Committee, as well as serving on the Nuclear Oversight, People and Performance and External Relations committees. An accountant by trade, Ms. Evans has owned and operated her own certified public accounting and consulting firm, V. Lynn Evans, CPA, since 1983. No stranger to engagement on utility issues, Ms. Evans has served on the MLGW Board of Commissioners, including as that Board’s Chair from 2008-2009.
In an interview with Memphis’ The New Tri-State Defender, Ms. Evans pointed out the role race relations and equality played at the very beginning of TVA’s operations, back in 1933. From its inception, TVA served as an important job creator in a Southern economy that was still reeling from the Great Depression.
“The thing that was very path finding in that time was that they wanted to insure that all workers who helped create the initial system were created equally regardless of race and regardless of ethnic background,” Evans said. “That was not an easy decision to make in the mid-30s.”
TVA Directors are appointed by the President with consent of the U.S Senate. Ms. Evans was appointed by President Barack Obama – her current term expires on May 18, 2017. We will have to wait to see if our new President will reappoint Ms. Evans after her term expires. If they are not reappointed, it is common for TVA Directors to remain serving on the board after their official term expires, ultimately stepping down when the concurrent session of Congress expires.
SACE remains hopeful that Ms. Evans’ historic appointment as TVA Chair will precipitate a significant shift towards development of more clean energy resources in the Tennessee Valley. To read the full blog, which is part of SACE’s blog series honoring Black History Month, go here.
While many were distracted during the end-of-year holiday season, the Georgia Public Service Commissioners unanimously approved a controversial settlement agreement that rewards Southern Company and its contractors for years of mistakes at the 45-month delayed nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle in Burke County along the Savannah River. Before the commission, SACE argued that the settlement failed to provide substantial protections to Georgia Power customers for billions of dollars in increased costs. Originally, the Vogtle expansion was projected to cost $14.1 billion, but new estimates place the cost well over $20 billion and counting.
There was notable outrage leading up to the vote, exemplified in these headlines:
- AJC’s Matt Kempner – How Georgia officials pantsed you over the holidays; That’s not a candy cane Georgia Power is handing us; Will Georgia regulators roll over for a tummy rub?
- Georgia Report’s Tom Crawford – Georgia Power might get early Christmas gift; Hearing reveals cave-in to Georgia Power
- Atlanta Creative Loafing opinion editorial by SACE’s Sara Barczak – Happy Holidays from Georgia Power: PSC could decide to give you a lump of uranium (and a higher electric bill)
SACE actively intervened in the expedited proceeding with attorney Bobby Baker, a former member of the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) for 18 years, representing our organization. Our final brief outlined our many concerns and we worked hard to inform the media and public about the unprecedented nature of this request and the negative implications of the PSC’s decision.
Just after the PSC’s unfortunate decision, more challenges surfaced that will undoubtedly drive up the costs further. The Japanese giant Toshiba, parent company of Westinghouse, which is the lead contractor building the two AP1000 reactors at Vogtle suffered major stock losses. Subsequently in mid-January, Toshiba announced that Westinghouse would be exiting the nuclear construction business.
It is unclear what the exact implications these announcements will have for the AP1000 reactors being built at Plant Vogtle and at SCANA’s V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina or for proposed projects that have already collected hundreds of millions of dollars of customers’ money, such as at FPL’s Turkey Point plant near Miami. But it is clear that these developments pose even more obstacles for the risky, nuclear boondoggles being proposed and built throughout our region. With your support, SACE can continue to track developments, sound the alarm and protect your pocketbook.
2017 is shaping up to be an important year for coal ash in the Southeast as there’s so much happening at once. Here’s a brief intro into the critical stories to watch in 2017; we’ll be revisiting these stories throughout the year on our blog.
- Will TDEC allow TVA to sweep coal ash under the rug?
If the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has its way, 13.4 million tons of coal ash will be abandoned in unlined pits, some of which are inundated with groundwater. TVA is planning to close coal ash pits at four power plant sites in Tennessee as early as this year. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) must not allow TVA to get away with inadequate closure.
- Will utilities and regulators take the risks of coal ash pollution seriously?
At its Colbert Fossil Plant in northern Alabama, TVA plans to leave 3.2 million tons of coal ash in an unlined, leaking pit near the Tennessee River. In southern Alabama, at Plant Barry, Alabama Power is planning to leave 15.8 million tons of coal ash in an unlined pit beside the Mobile River where it could contaminate ground and surface water. So far, Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has not required adequate clean up from either utility.
A recent study found that a catastrophic sinkhole could form beneath the coal ash landfill at Plant CD McIntosh in Lakeland, Florida, which could drop toxic ash into the Floridan aquifer, threatening the drinking water supply for Lakeland and beyond. The owners, Lakeland Electric and Orlando Utilities Commission, so far have not taken the report seriously.
- Will states update water pollution permits in the Southeast?
Over 23 percent of critical water pollution permits in the Southeast are out of date. In states like Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, nearly all of these permits governing the levels of coal ash contaminants that utilities can discharge into our rivers are overdue and urgently need to be updated in order to protect public health and the environment.
- What’s next?
One common theme among all these stories is the need for our regulatory agencies to challenge utilities and require compliance with federal and state laws in order to protect our communities and the beauty of our states. We’ll be monitoring these stories throughout 2017, so keep your eyes peeled for updates.
With just two weeks left in office, President Obama added a major piece to his environmental legacy by denying pending permits for seismic exploration for offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic. This announcement capped off a years-long fight by SACE and many coastal organizations, residents, and businesses to protect the economy and way of life from the impacts of offshore drilling or exploration.
The decision finally laid to rest the issue that began in March 2012 when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal regulatory agency tasked with overseeing offshore energy development, proposed to offer permits to companies seeking to explore for offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic using seismic airgun technology.
Airguns work by blasting very loud rounds of air into the water to send waves of energy to penetrate the sea floor in order to survey subsurface geology. The noise created by airguns has the potential to severely disrupt, harm, or even kill sea life, especially marine mammals that rely on their hearing and echolocation for critical behaviors. SACE opposes seismic airgun surveys in the Atlantic because the exploration process can be highly detrimental to the marine environment and these surveys are a step toward eventual drilling and the pollution that oil drilling can cause.
Since 2012, SACE has opposed seismic airgun blasting through formal comments and petitions, hosting educational events and public demonstrations—large and small—and visiting Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress about our concerns.
Concurrent with the proposal for seismic blasting in the Atlantic, President Obama’s administration also proposed opening the Atlantic to offshore drilling in January 2015, including vast waters off the coast of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia
In response, citizens, businesses, and local governments created a groundswell of opposition over the years, which compelled the Obama Administration to withdraw the proposal for near-term Atlantic offshore drilling in March 2016, and finally to deny the seismic permits on January 6, 2017.
The decision to deny the seismic permits is a reflection of coastal Southerners’ deep bipartisan dedication to protecting the coast we know and love. At times the fight seemed to have long odds as grassroots citizens groups stood toe-to-toe with the well-financed oil industry, but ultimately the power of representative democracy won the day as Southeastern states’ interests were protected for now. Stay tuned for updates as the new Trump Administration announces their plans for offshore energy production.