TVA’s long-range plan misses chance to maximize investments in alternative energy, efficiency

TVA, the nation’s largest public power company, released its 20-year plan today. The plan underestimates the potential of energy efficiency and renewables like solar and wind to provide low cost electricity to its customers.   (© Wikimedia)

Today the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) finalized the document that will guide energy decisions for the federal utility over the next 20 years. Known as the Integrated Resource Plan, or IRP, the document confirms that renewable energy and energy efficiency are cost competitive, but does not demonstrate a serious commitment to them in the years ahead.

This month’s release of the landmark federal Clean Power Plan makes this oversight all the more glaring. The Clean Power Plan provides incentives for earlier investment in renewables and some types of energy efficiency, yet TVA's IRP fails to take advantage of this chance to amplify its commitments to cleaner, cheaper options. Instead, short-term priorities are focused on carbon-producing, fossil-based natural gas. In addition, the price of renewable power is dropping so fast the IRP’s assumptions are already out of date. The final Clean Power Plan is structured to drive down the cost of renewables even more quickly.  

“TVA’s plan will reduce carbon through pre-existing commitments to retire coal plants but, with climate effects getting worse, nobody can afford to rest on their laurels, let alone the sixth largest carbon-polluting utility in the nation, ” said Amanda Garcia, staff attorney in our Nashville office. “For the sake of public health, our climate, and electricity bills for families in the Valley, TVA can and should be doing more.”

While TVA previously pledged to become a regional leader in energy efficiency, the IRP cuts these goals even while its own research confirmed the economic benefits of efficiency programs. At the same time the IRP was approved, the Board also agreed to a rate increase to cover costs from recent decisions that rely on heavy capital investments. A long-range plan that embraces energy efficiency would have been the perfect counter to raising rates. By providing customers with options to reduce energy usage, efficiency programs offer people with the choice to lower their monthly bills.

While the long-range plan may not go far enough, TVA has made smart investments recently in clean energy projects that can decrease costs and foster local economic development. For example, TVA’s deal with Google to develop a 100% renewable-powered data center on the site of the soon-to-be retired Widow’s Creek coal plant will bring 75-100 jobs to Jackson County, Alabama. Another agreement to purchase electricity from a solar farm in Lauderdale County, Alabama, is projected to employ 437 people over the life of the project and provide the county with a $20 million revenue increase. 

SELC will be watching and weighing in to ensure that TVA continues to build on these alternative energy commitments and its pledge to lead on energy efficiency, despite the modest investments outlined in its long-range plan.

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