Correction: This story has been updated to show Bill James is the mayor of Meigs County, not Marion County.
“TVA just put Georgetown on the map.”
* TVA will hold an information session from 3-7 p.m. Thursday at the Cedar Ridge Seventh-Day Adventist Fellowship Hall in Georgetown, Tennessee to discuss the proposed transmission project.
* Read about the project on the web at www.tva.com/Energy/Transmission-System/Transmission-System-Projects/Georgetown-Tennessee-Gunstocker-Creek
The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to build a new $300 million system operations center in southern Meigs County as part of one of the biggest upgrades of TVA's power grid in the utility's 85-year history.
The new facility, which is scheduled to be built over the next three years on part of more than 150 acres TVA acquired last year near Georgetown and Gunstocker Creek, will replace the power control center now housed beneath TVA's downtown Chattanooga Office Complex.
Aaron Melda, vice president of transmission operations and power supply for TVA, said Tuesday the new secured facility is being built to help accommodate a new energy management system that will be supported by another $300 million expansion of the fiber optic lines the agency also is bulding along about 3,500 miles of TVA's 16,000 miles of transmission lines.
"We think this will be transformative and will provide us a platform for the future to position TVA to provide the most competitive and reliable power," Melda said. "With all of the new solar rooftops and other distributed energy that may be coming, along with smart meters and other new technologies, what will be critical from a central operations standpoint is that we can have visibility, can predict — and in some instances can control — all of those things."
Melda said about 175 of the 240 employees who work in TVA's system operations center likely will move from downtown Chattanooga to the new Georgetown facility by the time it is fully operational in 2023.
Melda said TVA has been planning what officials have dubbed "Grid 2023" for a number of years to prepare the federal utility for the changing marketplace. In the future, Melda said, more consumers may pay different rates for electricity at different times of the day and more customers may have their own self-generation or power storage from solar panels, windmills or batteries.
Although TVA officials said the new facility is needed for the future, some Georgetown area residents said they were unaware of such plans and object to the utility's secrecy in acquiring the site and planning to install power lines through the area for needed connections.
Before late Tuesday, TVA had not previously publicly disclosed its plans to relocate its system operations center to the Georgetown area. Residents in the area complained that TVA wasn't being transparent with its plans. A number of them launched a Facebook page, "Stop Destroying Tennessee Farms," and questioned why "monster power" is destroying more farmland in Tennessee.
But Melda said new resiliency standards by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. are requiring extra security by electric utilities for America's power grid, leading the Southern Co. in Georgia and other utilities to relocate their system operations centers to remote, secured sites.
"It has become preferable, though it is not a standard, to move your systems operations out of an urban center," he said. "There are a number of new regulatory standards that are coming into place for EMP (electromagnetic pulse) or geomagnetic pulse protection."
TVA officials declined to detail all of their security measures for their facilities. But last October, TVA also opened a Cybersecurity Operations Center at the Chattanooga Office Complex to monitor and thwart cyber attacks to the grid.
The downtown power control facility at Market and 11th streets, although built in an underground bunker behind a series of locked doors with around-the-clock security, is still potentially more vulnerable to a terrorist attack than is a remote location like the farmland and vacant wooded site TVA bought in Meigs County, Melda said.
The existing system operations center was built two decades ago beneath the Missionary Ridge building of TVA's Chattanooga office complex and "is reaching the end of its useful life," Melda said. Additionally, trying to install the new energy management system software downtown while control operators are still dispatching power could create problems, Melda said.
By building a brand-new facility to replace the system operations center, Melda said, TVA can work out all of the bugs of the new energy management system software and the power control functions before making any switch.
Last August, the agency bought more than 165 acres from a couple of landowners in south Meigs County off Highway 58 north of Georgetown as the site for its new system operations center.
But TVA officials had been mum about why they bought the property or their plans for the extra-secure system operations center. Because such a center controls how power is generated, dispatched and delivered to nearly 9 million people, it operates like the brain of TVA and needs to be in a secured facility.
TVA is conducting a public hearing Thursday in Georgetown on a $26 million plan to extend a 161,000-volt transmission line to what the agency initially only said was a "secured office" on part of its property. TVA said the new line will be built using double-circuit steel poles on 4.25 miles of an existing 100-foot-wide right of way and on another mile of new 100- to 150-foot-wide right of way.
Greg Vital, the president of Morning Pointe Senior Living who owns a buffalo farm and other property in the area, said he is not opposed to TVA making improvements required for security and power delivery.
"But this is a rural area without much infrastructure, and to bring a major project out there without any advance discussion of it seems to reek of a little dishonesty in messaging," said Vital, who says one of the proposed lines appears to go across his property but nobody at TVA has told him about it yet. "Don't you think it would have been better for TVA to talk to the three property owners whom they need for public access through their property, which they do not have?"
Vital said the new TVA facility is likely to alter the character of the rural area.
"I will say that TVA just put Georgetown on the map," he said.
Vital reached out to elected officials at the federal and local levels, including U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais, along with Meigs County Mayor Bill James. But those officials also were unaware of TVA's massive building plans until told Tuesday after repeated questions from local residents and the Times Free Press.
"All we want is transparency, and TVA just needs to come clean and try to build support of the people in this area, rather than be secret about their plans, alienate people and then acquire this site and extend these power lines across our property," Vital said. "They acquired 165 acres to build this complex, and it's kind of arrogant to assume that they want to have support and help from the community and then use eminent domain without even trying to build support."
TVA is proposing to negotiate easements for the property and will discuss its plans at Thursday's public hearing. But as a federal utility, the agency does have the authority to use eminent domain to acquire property it deems to be in the public good.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.