For the Tennessee Valley Authority, the answer to looming mandates for cleaner energy may be blowing in the wind.
But most of the new green power TVA is seeking may have to be shipped into the Tennessee Valley from the breezier Midwest.
TVA directors agreed Thursday to buy enough wind and other renewable power generation in the next couple of years to more than power a city the size of Chattanooga.
TVA Senior Vice President Van Wardlaw said up to 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy - which also includes solar, biomass and hydro - could be bought from other producers if the price is right and delivery from other states may be arranged. That would be more than the extra power TVA will generate at peak from the second nuclear reactor the utility also is building at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant at a $2.5 billion cost.
By the numbers
* 2,000 - Number of megawatts of renewable power TVA is authorized to buy
* 1,200 - Number of megawatts TVA will add from the Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar
* 36,000 - Number of megawatts TVA can generate or buy under long-term contracts
* 34 - Number of megawatts of existing wind, solar and biomass generation
Source: Tennessee Valley Authority
"TVA's goal is to have 50 percent of our overall power supply from clean and renewable sources by 2020," Mr. Wardlaw said. "Purchasing more of these (renewable) resources from the market will help us meet our goal."
TVA's strategic plan calls for TVA to get most of its clean and renewable power from nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, which don't emit carbon dioxide and other gases linked with global warming. However, Congress is considering several bills to set renewable-energy standards for utilities, standards that don't count nuclear as a renewable source and would count only new hydro generation.
Anda Ray, the head of TVA's environmental program, said TVA will have trouble meeting a proposed renewable standard of 20 percent by 2020 if nuclear and existing hydro generation are excluded. But TVA officials estimate it will be far less expensive to buy wind power from outside of the Tennessee Valley than to pay penalties for not meeting the renewable standard.
"I consider this is to be a very important step forward for TVA," said Howard Thrailkill, chairman of the TVA board of operations and safety.
Mr. Thrailkill lamented that much of the renewable power TVA buys will come from outside of its seven-state region.
"That's a wealth transfer out of the Tennessee Valley," he said.
Mr. Wardlaw said most of the more than 60 proposals to TVA for renewable power were from wind producers in the Dakotas and other Midwest states.
"These are different sources than we have used in the past and there will be some challenges," Mr. Wardlaw said.
Even with the renewable purchases authorized Thursday, TVA will have to secure other sources of renewable power if Congress sets a 20 percent renewable standard for 2020.
"We expect the market to change rapidly in the next few years," Mr. Thrailkill said. "But it's important for us to get started."
TVA now generates less than 1 percent of its renewable energy at its own solar sites, wind turbines and a methane recovery project at a Memphis wastewater treatment plant. It also buys wind power from 15 privately owned turbines located on TVA's Buffalo Mountain wind farm.