GEORGETOWN, Tenn. — On a rolling meadow next to a forest of trees in the southern tip of Meigs County, America's biggest public power utility is building the brains for what it is calling the electricity grid for tomorrow.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is spending $300 million to build a new and bigger power control center at this rural location to replace its system operations facility now housed in the basement of TVA's Missionary Ridge building in downtown Chattanooga.
When built and fully operational by 2024, the new two-story concrete-walled facility should provide a more secure and effective power control system to protect against any outside interference and enable the use and dispatch of cheaper and more reliable power.
"All of this work is enabling us to have an energy system for the future with a more secure and modernized grid able to help us deliver more resiliency and a greener energy mix," Greg Henrich, TVA's vice president of transmission operations and power supply, said Tuesday on the site where his new office will open in the next couple of years.
The new power control center is part of a $2 billion grid modernization program by TVA over the next five years that also will double the amount of fiber-optic lines installed across TVA's 7-state region, along with the installation of a new energy management system to more quickly and easily dispatch and control power from far more distributed sources. TVA is spending $26 million to extend its transmission lines and build a new substation at Gunstocker Creek here, and the authority has allocated another $300 million to add another 2,700 miles of new fiber-optic lines along its transmission network.
Despite the initial capital cost, TVA's "Grid of Tomorrow" (formerly Grid 2023) is expected to ultimately save the utility more than $100 million a year in fuel and energy costs, beyond the capital expenses of the power system upgrades, by better allocating and using TVA's own energy portfolio as well as new distributed energy and neighboring utility power exchanges.
TVA's new energy management system is designed to predict, control and gain visibility to power needs and generation across the region to access and deliver the cheapest power in the most reliable manner.
"We expect to realize significant savings while also improving the resiliency and reliability of our network," said Don Cahill, general manager of major projects for TVA, who is overseeing the construction of the power control center.
TVA's new system operations center at a glance
> 166-acre site near Georgetown
> 175,000-square-foot, two-story concrete building will house power control operations
> 200 employees who work in downtown Chattanooga will shift to the new facility in 2023
> $300 million investment with a projected economic impact of $368 million for the surrounding area
Source: Tennessee Valley Authority
The new energy management system will better respond to the growth in distributed energy generation as local power companies like EPB choose to generate some of their own power and independent power producers use solar panels, battery storage or other technologies to feed into the power grid.
"This will provide us a more flexible and responsive system, and our center here is being designed to give us the space to respond to changing needs in the future," Henrich said.
The new operations center is outside an urban area, trending with industry best practices, and still close enough to minimize disruption for the 200 employees who will be relocated to the new facility. The new center also iswithin 30 miles of TVA's backup power control center near the Chickamauga Dam off Amnicola Highway.
Cahill said TVA plans to operate both its existing downtown power control center and the new facility in 2023 to ensure an effective transition to the new control center.
> Acquired in 2017
> Spring 2020 – Building construction began
> Summer 2020 - Transmission line construction began
> Summer 2022 – Transmission line scheduled to be in service
> Spring 2023 – Building scheduled to be completed
> 2024 - Transfer and conversion from downtown location complete
TVA acquired 166 acres near Georgetown in 2017 to develop the new power operations center. TVA officials said the rural site offers more of a buffer and chance to equip a stronger building for better cybersecurity and protection against potential electromagnetic pulse attacks than the existing downtown center, which is located at Broad and 11th streets in Chattanooga near a number of public buildings. The new facility in Georgetown will have a secured entrance and will not be accessible to the general public.
TVA's initial reluctance to discuss much about the project three years ago triggered concerns from some neighbors who launched a Facebook page, "Stop Destroying Tennessee Farms," and questioned why "monster power" is destroying more farmland in Tennessee.
But after meeting with neighbors and explaining the project and seeing the extra business spurred by it, most Meigs County residents now welcome the investment by TVA, Meigs County Mayor Bill James said.
"We're very excited about this project," James said. "It's going to help the southern end of our county tremendously in terms of economic growth."
The $300 million project is the largest single building development ever in Meigs County and is projected to have a one-time, $368 million economic impact from building contractors, crews and relocated TVA employees to the site, TVA spokesman Malinda Hunter said.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6340.