Congressional Leaders Urge TVA to Transition to Clean Renewable Energy

Ten Congressional Senators and Representatives sent a letter to TVA President & CEO Jeff Lyash and Board Chairman William Kilbride urging TVA to transition to 100% clean electricity by 2035, noting that TVA’s continued reliance on fossil fuels "fails on several fronts."

Stephen Smith | August 21, 2023 | Fossil Gas, Solar, Tennessee, Utilities

On August 17, ten members of Congress, including Representative Steve Cohen (TN-9) and Senator Edward Markey (MA), sent a letter to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) urging the federal utility to chart a path to 100% clean electricity by 2035. The letter begins, “As the country’s largest public power producer, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) should be leading the nation’s transition to a clean, renewable energy future, not dragging its feet. Yet, TVA continues to rely on fossil fuels that are not only supercharging the climate crisis, but are subjecting TVA customers to electric grid blackouts and energy insecurity. It is long past time for TVA to begin the transition to a renewable and reliable electric grid.”

SACE agrees.

“As an extension of the federal administration and the nation’s largest public power provider, TVA should be leading the way toward our energy future and the Biden Administration’s carbon-free goals. Instead, TVA is planning to expand fossil fuel infrastructure and make long-term commitments to fossil fuels, which is a direction that’s clearly out of alignment  with reaching our nation’s carbon-free goals.

In addition, TVA’s rolling blackouts during December’s winter storm resulted from failed fossil fuel infrastructure, including gas plants. A broader commitment to renewable energy and energy storage would be a wiser long-term solution to meet TVA’s reliability and carbon goals.

TVA’s decision to dig its heels into the high costs of a fossil gas plant and pipeline in Cumberland is yet another indication that the public utility has run afoul of its mission and the administration’s goals, and must have oversight from an independent body.”

— Dr. Stephen A. Smith, SACE Executive Director

The Congressional letter continues, “We write to urge you to phase out fossil fuels and immediately chart a path to 100-percent clean energy by 2035—one that prioritizes safety, affordability, resilience, and justice. We also strongly encourage you to seize opportunities to thoughtfully re-evaluate and further develop TVA’s long-term energy and decarbonization strategies, including through the upcoming Integrated Resource Plan and the Valley Pathways Decarbonization Study.” 

TVA just began crafting a new long-term integrated resource plan, or IRP, which is the prime opportunity to correct its current decarbonization trajectory. By SACE’s own analysis, if TVA continues on its current trajectory it will struggle to get to zero carbon by 2050 let alone 2035. This is primarily because, despite significant financial incentives and technological advances, TVA is doubling-down on investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure. TVA’s next public future planning exercise won’t be until 2028/2029. The importance of this IRP on decarbonization of electricity in the Southeast cannot be overstated.

Source: “Tracking Decarbonization in the Southeast” Fifth Edition, page 8.

As the Congressional letter points out, TVA’s continued reliance on fossil resources is not only “supercharging the climate crisis,” but is also “subjecting TVA customers to electric grid blackouts and energy insecurity.”

“TVA’s 10 million customers are shouldering the costs of its delayed transition to clean, renewable power. TVA customers experience some of the highest energy burdens in the nation, often spending an astounding 20 to 30 percent of their income on energy… TVA’s reluctance to join the clean energy revolution is not only expensive for its customers, it is further polluting communities that are already burdened with environmental health hazards. In addition to facing high energy burdens, families in the Tennessee Valley region suffer from the effects of TVA’s dirty energy mix, including exposure to the arsenic, chromium, lead, and mercury present in coal ash. In one recent case, TVA proceeded to dump coal ash in a predominantly Black neighborhood in South Memphis despite strong community opposition.”

— U.S. Senators Markey, Whitehouse, Merkley, Warren, and Sanders, and Representatives Cohen, Ocasio-Cortez, Barragán, Espaillat, and McGovern.

Along with the letter’s authors, we at SACE believe that TVA’s continued reliance on fossil fuels “fails on several fronts… undermines President Biden’s executive order to reach carbon-free electricity by 2035… [and] is contrary to global calls to fight climate change. And it disproportionately impacts communities of color and low wealth. TVA can no longer delay action on the climate emergency and growing energy injustice.”

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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