Groups urge TVA to halt plans for new natural gas plants

The Tennessee Valley Authority is proposing a plan that would lock it into gas for decades. (© TVA)

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s plans to build six new natural gas combustion turbines in Tennessee and Kentucky that would provide a combined total of 1.5 gigawatts of power run counter to President Biden’s call for net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035 and should be abandoned, said a coalition of clean energy groups in comments submitted by SELC.

“The decision by TVA to replace one fossil fuel with another locks the utility into gas for decades,” says Keith Johnston, Director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Birmingham office. “TVA did not properly consider other energy resources, such as energy efficiency, renewables and demand response programs, that could alleviate this need for more fossil fuels.”

In comments SELC submitted to TVA on behalf of Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Energy Alabama, the groups argued that its plan to boost the use of natural gas for generating electricity is costly, endangers public health and ignores the urgent need for action to combat climate change.

“With its mission to serve the environment and economy of the Tennessee Valley, as well as a directive from the President to decarbonize the grid and to promote environmental justice, TVA is well positioned to lead the national response to the world’s climate crisis,” the groups said in the cover letter for their comments. “Yet the utility’s plan to build new gas power plants balks at that opportunity, proposing to accelerate climate change during the narrow moment remaining to mitigate its worst effects.”

The comments highlight a number of executive orders signed by President Biden directing the entire federal government to take bold, decisive action to swiftly decarbonize the electricity sector and advance environmental justice.

TVA’s plans — announced in February shortly after Biden signed his executive orders — would require a massive investment in infrastructure — additional gas pipelines, transmission lines and gas compressor stations while making it impossible to meet the 2035 decarbonization goal.

Its focus on continuing to burn fossil fuels will drive up its already high costs for its customers, sacrificing savings that could be generated by investments in renewable energy and efficiency programs.

If TVA goes through with these plans, public health will also be sacrificed. Local air quality will absolutely suffer if these new plants are built and put into service. In its draft environmental analysis, TVA tried to paper over this harm by comparing pollution from the new plants to pollution from coal-fired plants already taken out of service.

The approach outlined by TVA is outdated and fundamentally flawed. Now is the time to move away from dirty fossil fuels and invest in clean renewable energy and efficiency measures that will lower carbon emissions and improve public health.

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