TVA turns to gas, renewables, efficiency in new era of slower growth in power

The idle Bellefonte Nuclear Plant is seen in Hollywood, Ala.
The idle Bellefonte Nuclear Plant is seen in Hollywood, Ala.

Electricity demand in the Tennessee Valley is projected to grow at the slowest rate in TVA history over the next two decades, negating the need for the federal utility to build new nuclear or coal-fired power plants until after 2030 at the earliest.

photo Miles Teems, president of Teems Electric and Fuel-A-New, talks about compressed natural gas fuel at Mach Fuel's Fuel-A-New in Ringgold, Ga.

TVA power future

Nuclear TVA will complete Watts Bar Unit 2 by the end of this year and pursue additional power uprates at all three Browns Ferry units to add 400 megawatts by 2023. TVA also will continue work on Small Modular Reactors as part of TVA's technology innovation efforts in conjunction with the Department of Energy but only if it makes economic sense. TVA has no plans to finish the incomplete Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Alabama. Coal TVA will shutter more units at its Widows Creek, Colbert, Allen, Johnsonville and Paradise coal plants and look at retiring Shawnee Fossil Plant in the mid-2020s if additional environmental controls are required. No new coal-fired generation would be added in the next two decades. Natural gas TVA is building new natural gas plants to replace coal units at its Allen Fossil plant in Memphis and its Paradise plant in Kentucky. TVA will add between 700 and 2,300 megawatts by 2023, and between 3,900 and 5,500 megawatts by 2033, from both combustion turbines and combined cycle plants. Energy Efficiency TVA will work with distributors on energy audits, technical advice and pricing programs to encourage consumers to save s between 900 and 1,300 megawatts by 2023, and between 2,000 and 2,800 megawatts by 2033. TVA also plans to add features to limit peak consumption of between 450 and 575 megawatts by 2023 and similar amounts by 2033. Solar TVA will add between 150 and 800 megawatts of large-scale solar by 2023, and between 3,150 and 3,800 megawatts of large-scale solar by 2033. Hydro TVA will pursue an additional 50 megawatts of hydro capacity at TVA's 29 power-generating dams. Wind TVA will add between 500 and 1,750 megawatts by 2033. But at current prices, wind power is not currently attractive for major new wind generation, although Clean Line Power insists it can transmit wind-generated power from Texas and Oklahoma to the Tennessee Valley at attractive prices.

photo Fred Holder, left, and DJ Shelton, with the company Greenform, check for debris on an array of solar panels on the roof of the La-Z-Boy furniture factory in Dayton, Tenn.
photo Greg Epperson, an engineering technician with the EPB, conducts an energy audit in Flintstone at the home of Duane Sanders, shown with his back to the camera. Energy audits are becoming more popular as residents become familiar with new tax credits for energy savings.

A new 20-year energy plan unveiled Monday by TVA suggests that it needs only add small gas-powered generators, solar panels and energy efficiency programs to meet future power demands after it finishes construction this year of the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. With power demand growing only one-third as much as what TVA projected only four years ago in its previous long-term forecast, TVA has no plans to build any major new power plants for the next couple of decades - the first such moratorium on baseload power plant construction in TVA's 82-year history.

"We're in a new era in which electricity is moving both ways on the wires and many consumers are generating power, as well as buying power, and new technologies are making all electric-powered machines use less energy," said Steve Smith, president of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a member of a stakeholders panel that reviewed the new Integrated Resource Plan for TVA. "There's simply no need now to finish a plant like the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant. I know Bellefonte has been like a zombie reactor, but this time I think it's really dead."

TVA's 185-page Integrated Resource Plan for the next 20 years doesn't specifically address the future of Bellefonte or rcommend that it be scrapped. But the unfinished twin-reactor facility in Hollywood, Ala., which TVA spent more than $6 billion to build so far, won't be needed under any of the power scenarios outlined in the long-range power plan.

TVA will continue to study small modular reactors in Oak Ridge under its technology and research agreements with the U.S. Department of Energy. But the new types of smaller reactors won't actually be built unless the new design proves cost effective.

TVA also won't need any more coal-fired power plants, even after it shutters its Widows Creek and Colbert fossil plants in Alabama and shuts down the Allen and Johnsonville plants in Tennessee and another unit at Paradise in Kentucky.

TVA projects that electricity demand in the Valley will grow at an annual rate of somewhere between 0.3 percent and 1.3 percent through 2032. That is only about a third of the projected electricity growth that TVA forecast in its last long-term power plan adopted in 2011 and less than 20 percent of the power growth rate TVA experienced through most of its history in the 1940s, through the 1970s.

"TVA is not alone is seeing this rather dramatic slowdown in electricity load growth," said Joe Hoagland, vice president of TVA stakeholder relations who has helped direct the 18-month process of preparing the long-range power plan. "Some of the new technologies and equipment we're seeing are really changing the way electricity is utilized."

Hoagland said a combination of energy efficiency, slower economic growth and alternative distributed energy sources are trimming the growth in power demand across TVA's 7-state region.

The power plan suggests TVA might want a high-voltage, direct-current transmission of wind power from the windier states in the Midwest or Texas, such as the $2 billion plans for a 700-mile DC line by Clean Line Energy LLC. But TVA doesn't anticipate needing such power until the late 2020s or early 2030s - a decade later than what developers of Clean Line Energy wanted.

The developers of Clean Line insist they will be able to deliver power to TVA at a competitive 4 to 4.5 cents per kilowatthour. But U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and others contend that wind is still too unreliable and expensive to erect long-distance transmission lines to transport wind from where it blows to where power is consumed.

However, Smith insists the United States "is the Saudi Arabia of wind and it just makes sense to bring this abundant and clean resource into the Valley" with the Clean Line Energy transmission. Without TVA, the project may not prove feasible.

But with natural gas prices expected to remain at attractive levels and solar power generation costs coming down, TVA will turn more to gas-fired generation, power purchases and solar generation for additional power needs. The growth in power also will be restricted by further energy efficiency promotion, which TVA calculates is still cheaper and better for consumers than building new, and usually more expensive, power generation.

"With strong direction from the Board to focus on quickly developing and ramping up programs, we are optimistic that TVA can meet and exceed its energy efficiency targets in the next five years, helping families save money as well as reducing its own costs, and benefiting all the ratepayers in the Valley," said Amanda Garcia, staff attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center.

TVA's Integrated Resource Plan is expected to be adopted by the TVA board in August when directors approve the agency's fiscal 2016 budget. The plan provides a road map for power planning through 2033, although different scenarios and events could shape TVA's power decisions.

"The recommendations of the IRP meet the dual objectives of ensuring flexibility in our energy sources while providing guidance on least-cost power options," Hoagland said.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.

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