FLORENCE, Ala. — Seventy-five years after the Tennessee Valley Authority was launched to help quickly electrify the region and help it grow, TVA directors adopted a new environmental policy Monday to slow the increase in electricity consumption and encourage more sustainable growth.
For the first time, TVA set a goal of capping emissions of carbon dioxide, believed to be linked with global warming. The federal utility, which last year derived 64 percent of its energy production from coal-fired power plants that emit the most carbon, set a goal of reducing that share to below 50 percent in the next 12 years.
The agency plans to cut carbon emissions, air pollution and thermal pollution by encouraging conservation, upgrading hydroelectric plants and adding more nuclear power and renewable sources of generation such as wind, solar and biomass, officials said
“We’re going to do what we can to make sure these (carbon emissions) are less than they are today by 2020,” TVA President Tom Kilgore said. “TVA will strive to have at least 50 percent of its generation portfolio be from low-carbon and zero-carbon sources.”
The agency’s new environmental initiative also calls for it to protect the 181,000 acres of land it controls for wildlife and natural resources.
The goals call for a near 50-percent cut in the growth rate of its electricity demand peaks by promoting more conservation, especially during peak demand periods. Within the next four years, TVA will work with its distributors on new rates, smart meters, education programs and energy audits to reduce the peak demand by 1,400 megawatts, or the equivalent of what a nuclear reactor and a hydro dam combined can generate.
Electricity consumption still is projected to grow but at a more sustainable pace, TVA Director Skila Harris said.
Ms. Harris, a friend of former vice president and global warming critic Al Gore, pushed for the new policy before her departure from the board Monday after nine years.
“It is better than I ever envisioned it would be,” she said.
TVA Vice President Anda Ray said the Tennessee Valley offers less potential than many parts of the country for wind, solar and geothermal production. Agency studies indicate that, even if TVA tried to develop all of the potential solar, wind, methane gas, new hydro and biomass generation that is cost effective in the region, the utility still would generate less than 10 percent of its power from such types of green or renewable power.
Twenty-six states have established goals for utilities to generate at least 10 percent or more of their power from renewable sources by 2025. TVA resisted a congressional measure that would have set a 15 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2020, claiming that renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy are less prevalent in the Tennessee Valley than they are in most other parts of the country.
TVA will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for public review in the next 18-24 months to outline how its environmental goals will be implemented.
TVA ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS
* Cap carbon dioxide emissions linked with global warming from all TVA sources by 2020 through energy conservation and more generation from nuclear power and renewable fuels
* Install scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction controls on more than 80 percent of 59 coal-fired generating units by 2018
* Reduce the growth in electricity consumption in the Tennessee Valley by 1,400 megawatts, or the equivalent of a nuclear reactor and a hydro dam, by 2012
* Promote water conservation and water quality and limit thermal pollution in managing the 652-mile Tennessee River
8 Maintain TVA lands “in good environmental health” and improve the decision-making process for land acquisition, development and sales to support sustainable development.
* Reduce air pollution, including additional efforts to limit mercury and fine particulate emissions from coal plants.
* Minimize waste generation and increase recycling efforts
* Protect 181,000 acres of TVA-controlled land for natural resource management and wildlife habitat
Source: Tennessee Valley Authority
Most of the hydroelectric generation potential from the region’s rivers and streams was achieved by TVA within the first two decades of its start in 1933. Since then, most of TVA’s new generation has come from coal and nuclear power plants, records show.
ROLE OF NUCLEAR
In the guiding principles for renewable and clean energy approved by the TVA board, nuclear power is key to meeting higher electricity demand in the Tennessee Valley. TVA is spending $2.5 billion to finish a second reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., by 2013 and is studying plans to build two new reactors by 2020 at its abandoned Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site in Hollywood, Ala.
Even with higher building costs for new nuclear plants, Mr. Kilgore said, “nuclear is still the best option.”
“The real objective is to reduce our carbon footprint,” he said. “That’s really what we’re trying to do.”
The TVA president insisted that energy conservation “is the greenest source of power” and should be counted in any renewable standard set by Congress or the states.
TVA doesn’t plan to build more coal-fired plants and will continue to invest about $1 million a day in pollution controls to limit sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury pollutants from its 11 coal plants, officials said.
Carbon emissions from TVA are growing at about 0.3 percent a year, primarily because most of the new generation is coming from natural gas-fired plants. Despite that gain, TVA has cut the carbon intensity of its generation by 22 percent through renewable sources, increased nuclear generation and gas-fired production to replace some coal-fired generation, according to the agency.
Joe Hoagland, the TVA vice president in charge of energy conservation, said a series of public meetings this spring showed that the public wants TVA to push conservation through more education and incentives.
Within its own facilities, TVA is obligated under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to derive electricity from renewable sources “to the extent economically feasible and technically practicable.” The act calls for federal agencies to derive at least 3 percent of their power from renewables by 2009, 5 percent by 2012 and 7.5 percent by 2013.
TVA’s Green Power Switch program allows consumers to pay extra to help promote more solar, wind, biomass and methane gas generation. But such generation comprises only about 0.1 percent of all TVA-produced power.
“Implementing this policy is going to be a challenge,” TVA Director Dennis Bottorff said of the new goals.
With the new environmental goals in place, Ms. Ray said, the agency now must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to give the public another chance to review how TVA will meet its targets.
“That should take from 18 months to 24 months to complete,” she said, adding that TVA can begin to implement much of the plan before then.