Lawsuit alleges TVA greenlit new gas plant without fully studying climate impacts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority alleging the federally-owned utility violated federal law when it approved a new gas plant without fully studying the plant’s environmental and climate impacts.
The lawsuit focuses on TVA’s decision to build new aeroderivative combustion turbines – or “Aero CTs” – at the site of the now-retired Johnsonville Fossil Plant in Humphreys County, Tenn. Aero CTs operate like jet engines that burn ‘natural gas,’ a fossil fuel, to produce electricity. TVA’s planned Aero CTs will worsen air quality in communities near the plant and will release dangerous amounts of potent, climate-warming gases, including methane and carbon dioxide. The plant is projected to emit up to approximately a million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.
Despite these effects, TVA approved the Aero CTs without properly evaluating the climate change impacts of the project, the viability of a carbon-free alternative, and the stark conflict between United States climate policy and TVA’s plant. The utility’s failure to conduct an adequate review violates the National Environmental Policy Act.
“We are in a critical moment in the fight against climate change and, as a federal agency, TVA should be a leader in the nation’s clean energy transition. Instead, the utility is dragging its feet and doubling down on expensive, climate-warming fossil fuels,” SELC Tennessee Office Director Amanda Garcia said. “TVA’s failure to fully evaluate renewable energy alternatives at the Johnsonville site will worsen the impacts of climate change and lock utility customers into paying high fossil fuel prices for decades. And it violates federal law.”
The Johnsonville Plant is one piece of TVA’s proposed multi-billion-dollar gas buildout. The utility also plans to build new gas plants in Cumberland City and Kingston, Tenn. In all, TVA is proposing to build nearly 5,000 megawatts of new gas power. These plans amount to one of the largest proposed fossil fuel investments in the country, and spending billions on new gas infrastructure will force TVA customers to pay for high and volatile fossil fuel prices, even as the costs of renewable energy sources – which are in many cases already more cost effective than gas – continue to fall.
“TVA is going all-in on gas with an anemic plan for renewable energy,” said Amy Kelly, Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign for the TVA territory. “Johnsonville is yet another example of this where there has not been any study of alternatives or consideration of the rising cost of gas and the additional reduced cost of solar and battery storage especially at existing fossil fuel plant sites with the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. TVA says it is a public power utility but is not including the public in its decision-making. TVA is seemingly front-loading these decades long volatile and dirty gas decisions in advance of a fully operating board.”
TVA’s massive fossil fuel spending spree – including the planned Aero CTs at its Johnsonville site – directly contradicts important federal climate goals laid out by the Biden administration. President Biden has signed executive orders calling for a carbon-free energy grid by 2035, but TVA’s proposed gas plants will continue to emit climate-warming greenhouse gases long past that deadline. TVA’s failure to consider its obligation to these federal orders further violates NEPA.
The lawsuit asks the court to order TVA to stop construction of the Aero CTs until the agency has complied with its obligations to fully study the environmental and climate impacts of the project and its alternatives.