By Dave Flessner
As Americans celebrate Earth Day today, environmental activists such as UTC student Ayla Callihan say public support is growing for more green initiatives, although they concede they still have a lot of work ahead of them in the Tennessee Valley.
"We're using too much power for no reason, and we're getting it from a lot of dirty sources," said Ms. Callihan, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior from Cleveland, Tenn., who helped with a recent successful campus campaign to pass a $10-a-semester environmental fee.
"I think students recognize that we need to change the kind of power we're using, and hopefully we can broaden this effort throughout Chattanooga," she said.
The shift to "green" is slower elsewhere. Seven years after the Tennessee Valley Authority launched its "Green Power Switch," participation in the voluntary program is less than half what it is in other parts of the country.
Jerry Cargile, senior product manager for the Green Power program, said last week that the initiative is about to top 10,000 residential subscribers for the first time in the seven-state TVA region.
That still represents only a fraction of the more than 3 million TVA customers who could sign up for the program.
"We thought we would have more than 10,000 customers within a few years of the start of the program, but there has been some reluctance by some people to pay more for green power when TVA itself doesn't seem to be doing much on its own," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a member of the Green Power Switch advisory board.
Green Power Switch allows consumers of most TVA distributors, including EPB, Volunteer Electric and others in the Chattanooga area, to buy blocks of "green power" generated from renewable sources. TVA derives most of its power from the burning of coal, and it is planning new power generation from nuclear energy and natural gas.
Residential customers who voluntarily make the Green Power Switch pay at least $4 more a month, and commercial businesses must pay even more, depending upon their size.
Using the extra funds from Green Power Switch, TVA has built or developed power sources from solar, wind and methane gas.
TVA's voluntary program was the first major such program of its type in the Southeast, and it set the standard for similar programs by other utilities in Florida and the Carolinas and soon in Georgia.
But Mr. Smith said TVA has lagged behind most other utilities in expanding its renewable portfolio much beyond that mandated by the Green Power program.
TVA is generating about 31 percent more power from renewable sources than what customers are buying through Green Power Switch, Mr. Cargile said. That should change, however, as more residential customers sign up for the program and colleges convert their energy programs.
UTC is the ninth Tennessee college where students have helped push the institution to either buy or soon buy Green Power credits from TVA. Gil Hough, the Tennessee director of renewable programs at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, likens the student environmental activism to their parents' activism in the 1960s.
"Many students are very passionate about global climate change and pollution in the same way many people were passionate about the civil rights movement a generation ago," he said. "That gives us real hope."
E-mail Dave Flessner at email@example.com