TVA enters talks to power a carbon-free Oak Ridge

Staff photo / A sign for Oak Ridge National Laboratory is seen inside the conference center/visitor center/cafeteria building in 2019, in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Staff photo / A sign for Oak Ridge National Laboratory is seen inside the conference center/visitor center/cafeteria building in 2019, in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The U.S. Department of Energy wants to power its biggest research lab with carbon-free electricity by 2030 and has begun talks with the Tennessee Valley Authority to figure the best way to get such green energy in the future.

TVA officials said they have signed a memorandum of understanding to provide the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge — and potentially other federal facilities in the Tennessee Valley — with 100% carbon pollution-free electricity within the next seven years to help comply with a White House directive.

In December 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the federal government to lead by example and leveraging its scale and procurement power to shift to entirely carbon-free energy to power federal facilities by 2030.

Earlier this year, the White House announced agreements between Xcel Energy and the Department of Energy to provide carbon-free energy to facilities in Colorado and the U.S. General Services Administration for facilities in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

"We are on the cutting edge of researching and developing innovative clean-energy technologies, and it makes perfect sense that we partner with TVA to accelerate their deployment," U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy David M. Turk said in an announcement of the agreement to work with TVA to achieve carbon-free energy by 2030. "Together, we will show the Tennessee Valley Authority's energy producers and consumers what is possible in the transition to clean energy."

TVA already supplies carbon-free energy to Google, Facebook, Vanderbilt University and other power users who participate in TVA's Green Invest program, which creates public-private partnerships that pair large customers with solar developers through a competitive bid process. TVA helps to secure and deliver renewable and carbon-free energy, and the Green Invest customers pay the cost of such carbon-free energy.

(READ MORE: Solar farm built to cut carbon use at Vanderbilt)

"Energy must be a collaboration where we work together to find practical solutions that drive us towards a clean energy future," TVA President Jeff Lyash said in a statement released Thursday. "TVA is proud to be an industry leader in carbon reduction, and we are excited to work with the Department of Energy to explore options to provide 100% clean energy to crucial federal operations."

More than 60% of the electricity generated by TVA is now carbon-free, and the federal utility projects it will be 70% carbon-free by 2030 on its path to achieving its goal of being 100% carbon-free by 2050.

Biden has said he wants the electricity sector to be carbon-free by 2035, and some environmental groups have criticized TVA for building more natural gas power plants, which emit carbon and use gas pipelines that release methane.

While the federal agreement with TVA centers on carbon-free energy for Department of Energy facilities in Oak Ridge, the two agencies will look to partner with other federal properties in TVA's service territory about green energy options.

The General Services Administration is studying sites in downtown Chattanooga, including the existing TVA power headquarters complex, to build a new $200 million federal courthouse for Chattanooga.

(READ MORE: EPA sued over Oak Ridge landfill radioactive waste)

In July, the government announced the Cleanup to Clean Energy initiative to repurpose Department of Energy sites for solar and other clean-energy generation. Initially the initiative will be focused on facilities in Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Washington.

"Powering our government with clean energy in the Tennessee Valley Authority's footprint is good for jobs, our economy, and our environment," the federal chief sustainability officer, Andrew Mayock, said in an announcement of the new initiative. "It is leadership and partnerships like this one that will accelerate our nation's transition to a clean energy future."

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

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