TVA is sniffing the wind and making some baby steps we hope will grow to have giant footprints.
This month, the utility that serves seven states began tilting for windmills -- not against them.
The Tennessee Valley Authority this month signed nine contracts with wind farms in Iowa, Kansas and Illinois. That wind power will generate 1,542 megawatts of energy in the Tennessee Valley, adding to the 27 megawatts already made in Tennessee at the utility's Buffalo Mountain, the first and only commercial, utility-scale wind farm in the Southeast. [To hear the windmills, visit timesfreepress.com/opinion]
That combined 1,569 megawatts from wind power will total more than the expected 1,150 megawatts that the Watts Bar unit 2 reactor is expected to generate when it finally comes online in 2015 to supply enough power for about 650,000 Tennessee Valley homes.
So adding wind to TVA's mix of power now equals more than one nuclear reactor, or more than several coal reactors.
But it levels the playing field even more in terms of giving TVA a cleaner energy footprint.
With the addition of that wind power and the eventual start-up of Watts Bar 2, more than half of TVA's power production finally will be carbon-free.
That's where the baby steps come in, and the giant carbon -- or carbon-free -- footsteps.
For years, TVA seemed bent on ignoring the air and carbon problems its coal-heavy power generation created. The utility skirted some federal regulations for cleaner air, claiming its aging plants were grandfathered in under "best-technology" rules. Finally in 2011, TVA agreed to retire 18 older coal-fired units at three plants to settle environmental lawsuits with several states and environmental groups.
At about the same time, the utility completed a new 20-year plan, and that plan called for reducing coal-fired power generation by 4,000 to 4,700 megawatts over the next two decades.
Now, TVA and a new citizens advisory group are cranking up meetings to tweak that 20-year-plan and keep it fresh.
That new plan needs to make still more use of renewable energy -- even at the consumer produced level -- and especially of energy efficiency.
We all like to flip on the light switch. We all need to flip on the efficiency switch, too.
TVA officials clearly want to protect their franchise as a public utility and a low-cost power producer, and we like hearing that because none of us want to pay more for electricity.
It's a balancing act: Making sure the very diverse Tennessee Valley has enough power to grow but is cheap enough to attract new jobs, while being clean enough to keep us safe.
TVA does much for us -- and we pay for it, either as ratepayers or as taxpayers when TVA gets various tax and bond breaks.
Now we must encourage TVA to also be a leader -- a pioneer once again as it was in the 1930s to embrace hydro-power -- in renewable energy, both wind and solar power.