TVA projects faster power growth in the future

Critics want more public input and plan ‘people’s hearing’ in January

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The Tennessee Valley Authority offices at Market and West 11th streets are seen before dawn April 5.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The Tennessee Valley Authority offices at Market and West 11th streets are seen before dawn April 5.

With electricity demand expected to rise more rapidly in the future from electric cars, data centers and overall economic growth, the Tennessee Valley Authority projects it will need to boost its power production over the next two decades even as the federal utility shuts down its remaining coal-fired power plants.

In a public hearing Thursday on TVA's long-term power plan, TVA Project Manager Reed Hunter said TVA's best estimate is for an annual growth in electricity demand of 0.8% over the next decade. That is up substantially from the relatively flat growth in power use over the past decade but still less than a third of the robust pace in electricity growth for TVA in the 1990s.

"In the 1990s, TVA experienced a decade of its highest growth in electricity demand with an annual growth rate of about 2.5% as we saw a huge amount of economic expansion," Reed said Thursday in a public presentation on the developing integrated resource plan that TVA is now preparing. "In contrast, coming out of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, we saw electric loads initially decline, and for the next decade, the economic growth that we saw was offset by gains in energy efficiency, so our load was basically flat."

Over the past two decades, consumers have replaced incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, which average about 85% more energy efficiency, and shifted to more energy-efficient appliances, stoves, furnaces and consumer devices, Reed said.

After such volatility in energy growth over the past three decades, TVA is trying to plot its energy future in a new integrated resource plan designed to guide TVA's energy plans through 2050.

(READ MORE: TVA's plans for more gas plants ignites fiery debate)

The new power plan will update the most recent integrated resource plan TVA adopted in 2019 before the pandemic. Since then, the growth pace of the Tennessee Valley has quickened, with the population in TVA's seven-state area growing three times faster than the rest of the nation. Also, the region has attracted more than $10 billion of new electric vehicle and battery production plants.

By 2035, TVA also plans to phase out the last of the 59 coal-fired generating units it once operated, and the utility has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Matthew Higdon, a senior environmental planner at TVA, said TVA expects to release its draft power plan for the future in March and will then have 45 days for public comments on the plan.

Althea Jones, senior manager of engagement at TVA, said a 24-member panel is reviewing TVA's future power plan. The Integrated Resource Plan Review Committee includes eight customer representatives and 16 stakeholder representatives from academic, government and community groups.

"We have a very broad and diverse group helping to ensure that we are serving all of you and our stakeholders," Jones said.

But environmental groups in the Tennessee Valley complain that TVA is too secretive about its plans and is rushing through the integrated resource plan without enough outside review. The groups submitted an 11-page petition to the board last month asking for more transparency and review of future power plans.

Lacking a response from the board, a half dozen environmental groups in the Valley are planning their own "people's hearing" next month on TVA's integrated resource plan for the next 25 years.

"TVA is a public utility, and it's about time that TVA takes the public's concerns seriously," Daniel Tait, executive director for Energy Alabama, said in an announcement of a January hearing in Nashville. "If TVA refuses to listen, we will create our own venue and make them."

(READ MORE: TVA power demand grows as economy electrifies)

The environmental groups want TVA to do more to promote energy conservation, residential solar power and other renewable energy generation through rates, incentives, power purchases and plant development.

Unlike most of TVA's neighboring utilities, which are regulated by state public service commissions, TVA's integrated resource plan is not subject to outside review other than adoption by the TVA board.

"As members of the nation's largest publicly owned utility, we cannot stand by while critical decisions are made behind closed doors," Jake Duncan, the Southeast regulatory director for Vote Solar, said in a statement. "The people's IRP hearing stands as a beacon of transparency and public engagement, epitomizing our commitment to an inclusive process where every voice contributes to forging a sustainable and equitable energy future for the Tennessee Valley."

The people's Integrated Resource Plan hearing is scheduled from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST on Jan. 25 at the Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

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