President Donald Trump could redirect the Tennessee Valley Authority by naming a majority of the governing board for the federal utility within the next four months, but the current chair of the TVA board expects any new board members will continue to pursue low-cost, cleaner energy sources over time.
"We're on a trajectory and my hope is that that trajectory will still be maintained going forward," TVA Chairwoman V. Lynn Evans said Friday. "The board has set a strategic direction with input of stakeholders across the Valley and we have used external experts to make sure we will have affordable, safe and reliable energy that supports our stewardship and economic development roles."
Over the past decade, TVA has shut down 24 of the 59 coal-fired units it once operated. TVA plans to close units 1 and 2 at the Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky this year but keep one of the coal-fired units operating at Paradise. TVA will shut down all three coal-fired units at its Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis by June 2018.
"I'm excited about the carbon reduction we will be getting from the Allen Fossil Plant here in Memphis," said Evans, the first Memphis resident, the first woman and the first African-American to chair the Tennessee Valley Authority in its 84-year history.
TVA is phasing out most of its oldest and dirtiest coal plants, rather than investing in expensive air pollution control measures, to help settle a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency and to diversify its energy portfolio. But TVA is adding scrubbers and other improvements at its Gallatin and Shawnee coal plants, which it plans to continue to operate.TVA is on pace by 2020 to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent below its 2005 levels. The utility already has cut its sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 90 pecent from the peak reached three decades ago.
But Trump could change the direction at TVA with his board appointment that could change five seats to GOP control by May 18.
During his presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed to revive America's coal industry and to reduce environmental regulations he said were limiting economic growth and raising energy prices.
Former TVA Chairman Joe Ritch, who the Republican-controlled Congress declined to ratify for another term on the TVA board, said U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., didn't like TVA's decision to shut down the Widows Creek and Colbert coal plants in Alabama and then to buy power generated by a solar farm in Alabama.
Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump in the presidential election and was picked to be in Trump's cabinet as attorney general.
The terms of Ritch and two other TVA directors, Pete Mahurin and Mike McWherter, expired earlier this month after the Senate did not confirm President Barack Obama's reappointment of the Democrats to the TVA board.
The terms of Evans and TVA Director Marilyn Brown, also Democrats appointed by Obama, expire in May. Trump will choose their successors, assuming confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
"I think the board will continue, regardless of its makeup, to abide by the mission of TVA," Evans told reporters during a conference call on Friday. "All of our decisions about energy have to do with ultimately providing low-cost, reliable power to the end user."
Evans said TVA's move to add more natural gas, nuclear and renewable energy, while reducing coal-fired power generation, was the favored approach by customers, the public and environmental regulators.
"We are absolutely interested in having a balanced portfolio that will include some of the tradtional energy sources such as nuclear, coal and gas, and we are expanding as quickly as we can, working through our local power companies and the demand from our customers, to add renewables, including some wind, solar and hydro generation," Evans said. "In the long term, we want to have a cleaner portfolio."
Evans, who was elected chair by other TVA directors this month, will appoint board committees and their chairs when the full TVA board meets next month in Gatlinburg.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340.
A previous version of this story stated that TVA planned to idle four unit. It has been corrected to show TVA plans to close units 1 and 2.