Tennesseeans Prepare to Lock Arms as They’re Locked Out from TVA’s Board Meeting

Ahead of TVA's quarterly board meeting, without the ability to speak directly to TVA's board, ratepayers are gathering to demand and deliver over 4,000 public comments asking TVA not build new fossil fuel infrastructure, transition to 100% clean electricity by 2030, and reimplement meaningful public participation.

Kate Tracy and Guest Blog | November 9, 2021 | Alabama, Climate Change, Energy Justice, Kentucky, Tennessee, Utilities

Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, also contributed to this blog post.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) will hold its quarterly board meeting on Wednesday November 10th, and once again, there is not an opportunity for the public to directly engage with the board. In fact, TVA hasn’t held a public listening session–virtual or otherwise–in more than a year. In the past, TVA held public listening sessions during board meetings, and in 2018 shifted to listening sessions the day before, claiming this format would allow board members more time to consider comments.

It became clear that TVA was avoiding–not encouraging–meaningful public participation when the details of previous public listening sessions weren’t announced until a week before the TVA Board meetings. If citizens wanted to attend these sessions, they would have to miss an additional day of work to not only address the Board, but also witness the Board’s response. 

While they have cited COVID concerns as an excuse for not holding in person public listening sessions during the pandemic, it is peculiar that the nation’s largest public power utility does not have the prowess to hold virtual public listening sessions, as their own board members call into board meetings virtually. The move to minimize the public’s voice comes at a time when TVA is making major decisions, such as how to replace multiple coal plants which are set to be retired by 2035, and amid new investigations and concerns over coal ash storage and safety from Bull Run to Memphis.

TVA now only accepts written public comments that must be submitted through a portal, those public comments are not readily available for public viewing, and the Board receives watered down and abbreviated versions of the public’s concern that has created a false and distorted impression of public opinion.

Why has TVA seemingly pulled out all the stops to suppress ratepayer voices from speaking directly to its rubber-stamping board?

It might be because they don’t operate with public power values and are woefully behind on investing in clean energy, ensuring customers pay affordable energy bills, and have a history of neglecting it’s workers health, the environment, and the community that depends on them. 

Elevating Voices in the Tennessee Valley and Beyond

At tomorrow’s Board meeting, members of the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement (TVEDM), of which the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) is a part, will gather in Knoxville to “Lock Arms” and deliver over 4,000 written comments demand that TVA:

  • Reimplement public listening sessions virtually until it is safe to do so in person,
  • Take the climate crisis seriously by investing in clean energy and not building new fossil gas plants,
  • Commit to 100% clean energy by 2030,
  • Protect coal ash workers and communities that may face exposure to coal ash, and
  • Dispose of coal ash properly with public health and safety as the utmost priority.

If you live in Knoxville, please consider joining us for an action outside TVA’s headquarters at 10 AM ET on Wednesday, November 10. You can also tune into the livestream of the event on our Facebook event page. Can’t make the meeting but want to stay involved? Sign up for campaign updates.

Tomorrow’s event follows in the footsteps of the People’s TVA Hearing’ held before TVA’s quarterly board meeting in August, where we captured written and video comments from concerned citizens and submitted them to the TVA Board. Additionally, we held a ‘Take Back TVA’ rally at TVA’s headquarters in Knoxville on the day of the August Board meeting that drew attention to TVA’s longstanding neglect for public concern.

TVA ratepayers march the streets at the ‘Take Back TVA’ rally in August 2021

For this quarter’s meeting, TVEDM again solicited public comments. Thousands of submissions will be delivered at TVA headquarters on Wednesday and have been sent to the TVA board, Department of Energy Officials, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee which oversees TVA board appointments. 

The call for public input was loud and clear in the submitted comments. If given a meaningful opportunity to speak at TVA board meetings, multiple TVEDM members outlined their priorities and delineated the ramifications of TVA continuing to indicate plans to prop up fossil gas infrastructure:

The open meeting format TVA previously used has been abandoned and replaced by written comments which are not visible to the public, nor are they available to the press. I demand that TVA reverse this pattern and adopt a policy of rigorous transparency and accessibility. It is deeply disturbing that a public/private entity like TVA should allow itself to become a propaganda platform for narrow interests, emphasizing the continued use of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. This progressive silencing and marginalizing of the public must stop. My comment will be made public and also submitted to my local power company so they are aware of my concern.” – Kent M., Knoxville, TN

“Why is TVA planning to invest in an outdated technology for energy generation? In a heating world, where many countries are facing up to the climate crisis by moving to carbon-neutral, renewable, clean energy, Tennessee still has its head in the last century and is betting on fossil fuels. TVA, it’s time to listen to your customers, and prepare for the future, or, rather, prepare for the NOW. Now is the time to invest in solar, wind, geothermal and other clean energy sources. TVA, we need virtual listening sessions so you can hear from your customers. We are here, we are paying attention. Please pay attention to us. We want to be heard, and we want climate-friendly solutions. Thank you.”Emma R., Nashville, TN 

“TVA is supposed to be a leader and operate in the public’s best interests. In keeping with that, TVA should be transitioning as much as possible toward clean energy resources. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, so its marginal benefits over coal are minimized by the emissions that result. Furthermore, emphasizing energy efficiency and reducing energy losses (insulation, caulking, etc.) are known ways to immediately change our CO2 footprint. Finally, toxic coal ash must be stored in a way that protects the environment, communities, and workers. TVA has stored amounts of toxic coal ash that must be re-dressed. Current standards and methods are completely unacceptable.”Carol L., Johnson City, TN

“TVA Board Members and Staff, As a United Methodist pastor, care for God’s good creation is a matter central to my faith. Climate change is already having a devastating impact on people all over the world. And scientists have made it clear that humanity must act with great urgency to make deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid even greater catastrophic consequences of global warming for all living things. I am writing to urge you to quickly move to clean renewable energy sources and to not replace the coal burning power plants with natural gas, but instead with solar power (both utility scale and distributed). TVA can and should be a leader in the fast transition to a clean energy economy for the sake of all. Finally, I ask that you quickly resume having open meetings for public comment. Thank you.”Reverend Paul Slentz, Nashville, TN

“As a leading utility organization in our country, TVA has a responsibility to lead our country to a more sustainable and democratic future. TVA should move more rapidly away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources. TVA should NOT merely replace coal with natural gas. TVA should work with its utility partners to strengthen incentives for local businesses and residents to generate renewable energy, thereby increasing the resilience of our energy grid. To assure that TVA stays attuned to its stakeholders, public comments must be solicited in more than written form ‚ & bring back virtual listening sessions and in-person sessions as soon as it is safe to do so. Finally, TVA should make public comments public, and show the distribution of opinions and advice that it receives. TVA, please take these actions to lead us toward a more sustainable and democratic future.”David V., Johnson City, TN

I have lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina and the foothills of East Tennessee most of my life. I strongly believe that the TVA should be leading the fight against the ravages of climate change. Protecting the biodiversity of our foothills and mountains is the most obvious local benefit to such action. The TVA could help change the devastating course the U.S. is currently on. Not only would investing in environmentally safe energy alternatives be good for the region and the rest of the world it bring well paying jobs to the area.” – Robyn M. Cleveland, TN 

Founded in the 1930s as a 100% renewable energy-powered utility charged with promoting environmental stewardship, job creation, and innovation, TVA has strayed considerably from that original mission. It’s time for the nation’s largest public utility to once again serve the Tennessee Valley with public power values.

TVA has access to the technologies and equity-focused policy roadmaps to help chart a path to reach 100% clean electricity sooner than its “aspirations,” and align itself with science, the public, and what the federal government has called for. We will continue our call for increased transparency, meaningful public participation, and accountability while amplifying TVA ratepayer voices until the tides turn. 

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