Advocates Applaud Introduction of New Legislation to Increase Public Participation in TVA Planning Process

Proposed bill calls for transparency and accountability to the public in TVA’s long-term planning process

March 8, 2024
Contact: Amy Rawe, SACE, 865-235-1448, [email protected]

Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. and Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., introduced new legislation to improve the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) long-term energy planning process. The TVA Increase Rate of Participation Act proposes changes to increase public participation in the federally owned utility’s integrated resource planning process, while also requiring the utility to take into account certain factors to ensure the plan will result in clean, sustainable, reliable and affordable energy for people in the Tennessee Valley region.

The bill follows a public hearing held by advocacy groups, including SACE, earlier this year, which called attention to TVA’s faulty IRP process and featured in-depth presentations from expert witnesses, recorded appearances from three federal officials and a speech by Tennessee State Rep. Justin J. Pearson. Cohen announced his intent to introduce the legislation in a pre-recorded statement played during the hearing.

“The Tennessee Valley Authority conducts its energy planning process behind closed doors, without substantial input from external experts and the people who are impacted by these decisions the most,” said Appalachian Voices Director of Public Power Campaigns Brianna Knisley. “Meaningfully involving the public in the planning process will not only make TVA more accountable to its customers and impacted communities, but will also vastly improve the quality of the resulting plans. Members of Congress who support public accountability for this federal utility should co-sponsor this bill.”

The new legislation would establish an Office of Public Participation, which is charged with directly engaging with the public and facilitating both public education and input into TVA matters. The bill would also require TVA to publicly release critical information such as modeling assumptions and to collect feedback before a draft integrated resource plan is released. It further directs the Office of Public Participation to set a process for stakeholder intervention and discovery in the IRP.

“The TVA Increase Rate of Participation Act is a pivotal step towards modernizing TVA’s resource planning process, aligning it with industry standards put in place for most utilities in the 1990s,” said Jake Duncan, Southeast Regulatory Director at Vote Solar. “Monopoly utilities like TVA don’t face the pressure of the free market, so meaningful transparency and oversight by the public and the TVA board is crucial to ensuring that the nation’s largest public utility genuinely plans in the people’s interest.”

“This bill will pull back the curtain on our country’s largest federal utility, which is plowing forward on its long-term energy plan while leaving communities in the dark,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, Energy Justice Campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For too long, TVA has been unaccountable, making decisions behind closed doors that burden ratepayers with more fossil fuel pollution, blackouts and rising utility costs. TVA’s 10 million customers will live under this plan for decades and people deserve to have a say about what’s in it.”

“TVA is a monopoly utility that’s making critical decisions that impact our lives for decades to come,” said Maggie Shober, Research Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It is important that those decisions are informed by accurate information and the will of the people. This bill clarifies the need for transparency and accountability to the public in TVA’s long-term planning process. Since TVA cannot be held accountable through state regulators, this bill addresses this accountability gap and holds TVA responsible for serving the people of the Tennessee Valley rather than their profits.”

Unlike most utilities, TVA is not regulated by a state utility commission. For-profit utilities and their regulators are required to get public input and host a formal proceeding in which anyone with cause — individuals, companies, nonprofits — can participate, request data and submit expert testimony to inform the regulator’s evidence-based decision. The TVA board of directors takes on the role of regulator but has largely taken a hands-off approach with the current IRP, including abstaining from holding a public hearing.

“The IRP will determine the quality of life and the economic future of the communities across the TVA region,” said Sheree Martin, Deputy Director of Energy Alabama. “TVA customers should have a voice in the actual development of TVA’s IRP, not merely an opportunity to comment on a draft. The existing process does not allow for meaningful participation because the plan is already a draft when the public-facing IRP planning process is announced. The TVA IRP Act is a step in the right direction.”

TVA will release its draft IRP later this month and is hosting open houses around the region to gather feedback. It remains unclear whether community feedback will result in substantive changes to TVA’s final IRP.