TVA saves cents with sense

The Tennessee Valley Authority is making more sense these days - and finally watching ours: Our cents, that is.

The utility is shutting down eight more coal-fired power generators at three power plants in Kentucky and Alabama. And it is just saying "no" to private financier Franklin Haney who has said he wants to help pay for the completion of Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Jackson County, Ala., 40 miles southwest of Chattanooga.

Some of the 50-plus-year-old coal units will be replaced with more efficient gas-fired units. Gas is much cheaper now than coal. And these days, with still no permanent waste storage for spent nuclear fuel and rods -- along with a growing understanding of how weather and natural disasters can affect nuclear power plants -- the cost to complete nuclear reactors is doubling every time we turn around.

TVA President Bill Johnson told TVA directors Thursday that a new assessment indicates finishing one unit at Bellefonte would cost $7.4 billion to $8.7 billion. That's about twice the last estimate of $4.9 billion in 2011. And that previous estimate was up from about $3 billion in 2008 (when TVA said it would cost up to $7.1 billion to build two reactors there). Bellefonte was started in 1974, and by 2008 already had cost more than $4 billion.

A billion here, a billion there ...

Aside from money, TVA's decision on both the coal and nuclear fronts is a welcome and wise one environmentally. Coal continues to be a major polluter, both of carbon in our atmosphere and other emissions. With TVA's future-planning exercise about to begin, perhaps the utility will look to more renewable energy and to simple home and business energy efficiency.

And, as Johnson pointed out to the TVA board this week, the half-finished Bellefonte plant can still be an ace in the hole should the Tennessee Valley gain new manufacturers that would drive a need for more electricity.

Save our endangered Tennessee walking horses

Congress may not be doing much these days other than complaining and filibustering, but at least some of its members are talking about legislation that could put a nail in soring Tennessee walking horses.

A bill that would safeguard show horses from painful practices to make the state's iconic high-steppers step still higher picked up momentum this week on Capitol Hill.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel heard testimony Wednesday on proposed amendments to the 1970 Horse Protection Act from Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. The bill would place substantial penalties on any show horse owner whose horse is found to be a victim of soring -- either through the use of caustic chemicals or painful shoeing techniques. Whitfield's bill also would add independent overseers to the largely self-policed industry.

"I've seen horses' feet look like pizza with the cheese pulled off of it. That's how horrific this practice is," Marty Irby, the international director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, told the panel.

Dr. John Bennett, a veterinarian who testified on behalf of the Performance Show Horse Association, argued that the industry is cleaning itself up and he touted a 98 percent compliance rate measured by the industry's lay inspectors who were trained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The trouble is, those lay inspectors work for the industry and are part of the industry -- no matter where or how they were trained. That's why Whitfield's legislation calls for independent overseers.

This legislation needs to be passed, but the industry's money is being waved at members of Congress in big walking horse states like Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Florida.

Fans and horse lovers need to weigh in on this debate to keep this beautiful, patient, docile horse breed alive and performing -- fairly.