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SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Tennessee

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State Energy Overview

Tennessee is home to extraordinary places such as the Smoky Mountains, Cumberland Plateau, the Mississippi Delta and the Tennessee River Valley that support some of the most naturally diverse areas in the world. Air pollution and climate change pose a serious risk to these treasured places, making it important that we act now to curb our reliance on fossil fuels through energy efficiency and renewable energy alternatives.

For a snapshot of “What’s Powering Tennessee?” you can view our fact sheet, here. To learn about how climate change will affect Tennessee, visit our Climate Change Impacts on Tennessee, here.

Energy Efficiency

Tennessee ranks fourth in the nation for the highest rate of residential electricity consumption, with an average of 6.3 MWh per capita in 2013. This represents nearly three-and-a-half times the rate of residential electricity usage in Hawaii, the lowest-consuming state that year. The silver lining to this dismal statistic is that there is enormous potential for Tennesseans to achieve large savings in energy demand through cost-effective energy efficiency measures. There have also been some positive developments over the past decade. In 2008, then-Governor Phil Bredesen convened the Governor’s Task Force on Energy Policy to develop recommendations for the state to become a leader in clean energy. John Noel, SACE’s Board President, played an active role as a member of this task force. As a result of this process, the Tennessee Clean Energy Future Act was enacted, which requires state government to lead by example with improved energy management, encourage job creation in clean energy industries and promote improved residential energy efficiency with a statewide residential building code. At the time of its enactment, Tennessee was found to have the highest per-capita residential electricity consumption in the nation. Other initiatives by the state and local governments, accelerated in part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, have also improved the efficiency of Tennessee’s homes, businesses and government buildings.

Unfortunately, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federally owned utility that provides electricity to more than 99% of the state, has not been as aggressive in pursuing the economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency. TVA has ramped up its efforts on energy efficiency in the past few years (new efficiency programs were rolled out in 2011), but we still have not seen the leadership we would expect from the largest publicly owned utility in the country.

Through TVA’s last Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) process, approved in April 2011, the value of energy efficiency to both TVA and its ratepayers was clearly demonstrated. Now, in TVA’s current IRP process (draft released for public comment on March 9, 2015), the utility has pledged to model energy efficiency as a resource on equal footing with generation resources. Unfortunately, the draft 2015 IRP includes significant methodological flaws that fail to fully recognize efficiency for what it is: the cleanest, cheapest and most readily available resource to meet future energy demand. We’re hopeful that TVA will take heed of public support for energy efficiency, and fairly evaluate it as a resource so that the utility can continue to ramp up its cost-effective energy efficiency program offerings. If you would like to submit comments on the draft IRP before the deadline on April 27, 2015, please visit this page. You can also read more about energy efficiency by visiting our Learn About Energy Efficiency page, here.

Solar

Much of Tennessee’s solar industry is dictated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. That said, TVA operates in seven states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia), and each one has different state-level policies and regulations that may enable or hinder solar development. In Tennessee specifically, there are at least a couple current policies that support solar installations, including a sales tax exemption for solar PV systems and a partial property tax exemption for homes or businesses that install a solar system. While these policies may drive some of the solar market growth in Tennessee, the primary driver to date has been opportunities made available through TVA.

As of August 2014, TVA had over 81 MW of small distributed solar operating or approved under their Green Power Providers program, and over 230 MW of large-scale solar projects operating or in pipeline through their Solar Solutions Initiative and Renewable Standard Offer programs. In 2015, TVA continued to offer these popular programs opening up another 130 MW of potential solar capacity for application. Looking ahead to 2016, changes are anticipated to the design of – at least – the Green Power Providers program. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and other Tennessee Valley stakeholders have been involved in a two-year process with TVA to determine a methodology for producing a value of distributed generation, and also a program design that could be used for implementing that methodology. The Distributed Generation – Integrated Value (DG-IV) process continues through early 2015 with a goal of presenting a final methodology and program design to the TVA Board in August, and ultimately get it approved to operate in 2016. It’s unclear whether TVA’s other solar programs will also experience changes in 2016. However, another stakeholder process which the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has been deeply involved, to develop TVA’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan is also underway – as of early 2015 – and it’s results could potentially drive more solar development in the coming years. In addition, TVA recently announced plans to build an 80 MW solar plant (in Alabama), outside the programs currently offered. You can read more about solar by visting our Learn About Solar page, here.

Wind

Tennessee is currently the only state in the Southeast with an operating, utility-scale wind farm. The Buffalo Mountain wind farm provides up to 29 megawatts of wind energy to Tennessee Valley Authority customers. The state has fairly good mountain and low land wind power resources. As wind turbine technology continually advances, wind development companies will become more interested in the state’s resource. Learn more about Tennessee’s wind energy potential here.

With all that has been accomplished in Tennessee over the past couple years, there is still much to do to ensure the successful development of Tennessee’s abundant energy efficiency and renewable energy resources. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy continues to advocate for effective programs and policies that will bring economic and societal benefits to the citizens of Tennessee while protecting our natural resources for future generations.

Coal

There are a total of 7 coal plants in Tennessee operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the main energy provider in the state. Of those 7 plants, TVA has committed to closing three coal plants; the John Sevier plant located in Hawkins County (now retired), the Johnsonville Plant located in Humphreys County and the Allen plant in Memphis, TN. The other four plants in the state are operational and plan to be operational for the long term. In 2014, TVA spent almost $1.9 billion on coal to burn in its power plants. According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Tennessee spent a net $910 million in 2012 on out-of-state coal, ranking it 9th in the nation for most money spent out of state for coal. In 2010, Tennessee ranked number 11 in the list of the top 15 states for coal health impacts. In that year, there were 340 hospitalizations, 640 heart attacks and 499 deaths related to pollution from coal plants in Tennessee. In 2014, 44% of TVA’s electricity generation came from coal. Although coal has declined over the past decade from 64.9% in 2000, it is still a significant part of the state’s energy mix.

Despite the fact that Tennessee is the home of the devastating Kingston coal ash spill, the state still lacks many basic safeguards to protect communities and waterways. Tennessee is home to 44 coal ash impoundments that can hold up to 17.5 billion tons of coal ash. Annually, Tennessee produces over 3.2 million tons of coal ash every year. The a majority of this ash is stored in unlined impoundments and are located near waterways and communities. Two of the state’s coal ash sites have been rated “high hazard” by the EPA and the six are considered “significant hazard.” You can learn more about coal by visiting our Learn About Page, here.

Nuclear

Tennessee is home to two nuclear plants owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA’s Watts Bar is an ice condenser reactor along the Tennessee River began operation in 1996 and is 10 miles south of Spring City. It was the last and one of the most expensive commercial nuclear reactors brought online in the country, costing $6.4 billion. Ice condensers are considered to have serious design flaws, including having “egg-shell” containment. Watts Bar was selected as the lead reactor to produce tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, required to recharge U.S. nuclear weapons, another example of the dangerous crossover between military and civilian nuclear operations.

TVA is currently completing construction of a second reactor at Watts Bar and pursuing an operating license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission with hopes to begin commercial operation by the end of 2015. Construction originally began back in the early 1970s but the reactor was abandoned. Find more about the complicated history of this very delayed and very over-budget reactor here.

TVA also operates the two Sequoyah Westinghouse Electric ice condenser reactors about 16 miles northeast of Chattanooga, which are also along the Tennessee River. Sequoyah’s reactors began operation in 1981 and 1982. Sequoyah is slated as a back-up facility to produce tritium.

Nuclear power is an extremely risky and expensive way to boil water to generate electricity. Though nuclear power plants do not release carbon dioxide like coal-fired power plants, they do release radioactive and hazardous materials, including long-lived, highly radioactive waste, that threaten our security, jeopardize our health and pollute our natural resources. The consequences of an accident or terrorist attack at a nuclear power plant could be devastating. Nuclear plants are also incredibly water-intensive, depleting limited and precious water resources.

Building new nuclear generation is a waste of the valuable time and money needed to address climate change and a missed opportunity to invest in affordable energy efficiency measures and real renewable solutions, such as solar and wind, that can benefit Tennessee’s economy for generations to come. You can read more about nuclear power by visiting our Learn About Nuclear page, here.

Bioenergy

Tennessee, like many Southeastern states, sends more than a billion dollars out of state for energy resources annually to power the state and provide for its residents. But there are local opportunities that can help shift that equation. Our analysis shows Tennessee has a significant amount of commercially available and sustainable biopower capacity based on various biomass resources. Utilizing any of these resources will need to be done carefully and require thorough assessments of need, resource availability and other demands, water use, biodiversity, carbon, soil quality, air quality and other economic and environmental impacts. A few other projects have been proposed for the state, but the prospects for their development remain unclear, based on factors including resource availability, federal regulations and laws, financing and environmental impacts. You can read more about bioenergy by visiting our Learn About page, here.

 

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