TVA Can Lead the Way

Transforming Our Country’s Largest Public Power Provider

The Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, provides electricity to 10 million customers in the  Tennessee Valley. As the country’s largest public power provider — and a federal agency — it should be leading the way in transitioning to the 100% renewable, just and democratic energy future we desperately need. Instead, so far the utility has been obstructing this transition, thwarting renewable energy and energy efficiency, and even planning to build new fossil fuel facilities, all while ignoring increasingly urgent calls for transformation.

TVA’s Foot-Dragging on Solutions

We need TVA to ditch fossil fuels and false solutions by no later than 2030 — but instead, it’s investing in them. Right now only 3% of its generating mix comes from solar and wind, and its current energy plan has the utility still emitting more than 34 million tons of carbon annually in 2038. With its significant buildout of dirty gas, including 4 GW of new gas by 2030, TVA won’t reach President Biden’s goal of a carbon – emission-free power sector till after 2100.

TVA is also impeding the energy solutions — namely renewable technologies, energy efficiency and distributed energy — needed for climate resilience, utility affordability, and the long-term public health of Valley residents. Although households in the American South pay much more for electricity, TVA has obstructed rooftop solar and slashed energy-efficiency programs. Meanwhile it hasn’t done much to address the immense environmental and public health consequences of its fossil fuel reliance, like the 2008 Kingston Coal Ash spill that killed dozens of workers, harmed the environment, and worsened public health, especially for the residents of Uniontown, Alabama, where this toxic waste was dumped.

It’s Not Too Late

TVA can still get on track with climate science and a just transition if it starts now. President Biden recently nominated four new TVA board members who could help fulfill his climate promise by making TVA a leader for a public, renewable and equitable electric utility model. It won’t be easy, but these new board members can and must champion climate and energy justice by demanding a fundamental and rapid transformation at TVA.

Check out this op-ed to learn more about the Center’s vision for TVA as a model for energy justice in the Tennessee Valley.

Milestones in the Center’s Fight for Energy Justice in the Tennessee Valley

  • In September 2021 the Center sued TVA over the utility’s use of ratepayer dollars to fund anti-climate lobbying groups. TVA paid $7.3 million to the Utility Air Regulatory Group, an industry lobbying group that fought Clean Air Act rules and other environmental protections. The lawsuit seeks an order to address a 2020 petition seeking to regulate this type of spending. Read coverage in E&E News Greenwire.
  • In August 2021, the Center and partners in the Tennessee Valley organized the People’s TVA Hearing where TVA ratepayers voiced their concerns around several issues, including TVA’s mishandling of coal ash, new gas development, and the board’s lack of responsiveness to public input in the utility’s decision-making process. TVA has not held a public listening session since February 2020.
  • In conjunction with the August TVA board meeting, where the agency continued to refuse to hear directly from its customers, the Center and allies with the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement mobilized a Take Back TVA rally demanding meaningful public participation, greater accountability, and the board’s commitment to a just transition to 100% renewable energy. Read coverage in PV Magazine.
  • The Center led a letter calling on the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to prioritize TVA as a national model to pioneer the country’s renewable energy future and to prepare a roadmap to transition the utility to 100% renewable energy by 2030. Read coverage in PV Magazine.
  • In response to TVA’s retirement of two major coal plants — the Cumberland and Kingston fossil plants — the Center is urging the utility to expedite the retirement of its remaining coal fleet and to prioritize distributed energy and storage over new gas facilities.
  • In June 2021 the Center worked with U.S. House Representatives Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush to introduce a congressional resolution that would transform the nation’s largely private energy system into a publicly owned and governed network and require TVA and all federal public power providers to transition to 100% renewable energy.
  • Led a mobilization of more than 200 utility-justice, environmental, racial justice, labor and faith groups to urge the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to confirm climate champions to TVA’s board who will lead the utility’s renewable and just energy transition.
  • The Center and organizations in the TVA region called on the TVA board to align the utility’s energy planning with President Biden’s Executive Order mandating that the electricity sector achieve zero carbon emissions by 2035.
  • In February 2021 the Center filed a brief before FERC in favor of federal oversight on a proceeding brought by several local power companies, or LPCs, seeking transmission access to TVA for electricity purchased outside the TVA territory. The Center argued TVA is failing to serve the public interest by locking LPCs and residents into dirty energy.
  • In August 2020 the Center and dozens of climate-justice organizations petitioned TVA to impose a moratorium on electricity shutoffs and fund debt relief for its customers. The petition also calls on TVA to address the compounding climate, economic and racial crises in the region by retiring its fossil fuel assets and investing in energy efficiency, distributed renewable energy, and good-paying jobs.
  • The Center sued TVA for stifling distributed solar energy development in its vast territory.  
  • The Center called on TVA to rapidly transition to renewable energy and adequately address the impacts of its ongoing operations on threatened and endangered species in its 2019 Integrated Resource Plan.
  • Photo of Take Back TVA rally courtesy Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement.