The winds of change in consumer power demand are blowing against building a proposed $2 billion transmission line to bring wind-generated power into the Tennessee Valley, according to a senior member of the Senate energy subcommittee.
In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander again urged the Tennessee Valley Authority not to contract with Clean Line Energy Partners to buy wind-generated power he says TVA doesn't need and could boost electric rates. Alexander, a frequent critic of wind power subsidies and a supporter of nuclear power, said the proposed 700-mile Plains and Eastern Clean Line from Oklahoma to Memphis would "carry comparatively more expensive, less reliable electricity to Tennessee and other southeastern states."
"TVA has concluded that it doesn't need more power for the foreseeable future," said Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who serves on the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee. "Therefore, its board should resist obligating TVA's ratepayers for any new large power contracts, much less contracts for comparatively expensive and unreliable wind power."
Over the next 20 to 30 years, Alexander said TVA might have to pay as much as $1 billion more for power from Clean Line Energy since the wind doesn't always blow and other power generation will be needed to supplement the wind generation.
But Mario Hurtado, executive vice president of Clean Line Energy, said their project is a privately financed development of a major infrastructure program like President Trump promised to bring to America's heartland.
"Our country suffers from an infrastructure deficit," Hurtado said. "Clean Line Energy is privately financing the development of an infrastructure project that will put thousands of Americans to work and lower electricity costs for businesses and households."
With federal production tax credits for windmill generators, Clean Line projects it would provide TVA and other utilities in the Southeast power at rates at or below the current cost of electricity in the Valley. Wind power also provides the region cleaner, renewable energy, which many major companies like Google and Apple said they want to use for new developments.
Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland on Thursday disputed Alexander's claims about the project during a press conference in Memphis.
"Shelby County, Memphis Light, Gas and Water, the city of Memphis, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, the University of Memphis, the Millington Industrial Development Board and the Black Business Association of Memphis all agree that having low cost wind energy would be a huge asset to our region," Roland said. "Everyone on the TVA grid will save money by allowing cheap wind energy to be delivered from Oklahoma."
Clean Line has gained the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for utility status and approvals of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority to extend its high-voltage, direct-current line to Memphis.
TVA signed a memorandum of understanding with Clean Line Energy and the transmission line developers have begun buying property rights of way for their project. But TVA and other Southeastern utilities have yet to sign any contracts to buy the power that Clean Line would transmit.
Alexander insists the power that Clean Line would bring to the Valley is simply not needed since electricity demand has stalled and isn't expected to get back to its pre-recession peaks for at least another decade.
"TVA has said they don't need any new baseload power in the coming years, and even sold the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant — which would have produced reliable baseload power for the next 60 years — because they simply didn't need the power," Alexander said.
Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree press.com or at 423-757-6340.