Julie Ryan

Clean Up TVA Coalition Launch

Groups and community members unite to propel TVA into a just, equitable, and fossil-fuel-free energy future by 2030

 

TENNESSEE — Dozens of organizations in the Tennessee Valley came together today to launch the Clean Up TVA Coalition, demanding immediate action from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to cut carbon emissions and transition to a fossil-fuel-free and just energy future by 2030. Coalition partners include the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), Appalachian Voices, Sierra Club, Sunrise Knoxville, Sunrise Nashville, Center for Biological Diversity, Sowing Justice, Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment (SOCM), Knoxville Democratic Socialists of America, Energy Alabama, Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light, Memphis NAACP, and One Knox Legacy Coalition.

The coalition was formed in response to TVA’s desire to replace its Kingston and Cumberland coal plants with new methane gas plants and 149 miles of new gas pipeline. The utility has the second-highest planned gas buildout by 2030 among all major utilities. The coalition is urging TVA to invest instead in clean energy, such as solar, storage, and energy efficiency, to replace the utility’s fossil fuel fleet, especially the retiring Kingston and Cumberland coal plants.

TVA is too reliant on fossil fuel energy and plans to continue to generate millions of tons of carbon,” said Pearl Walker, co-chair of the Memphis NAACP Environmental Justice Committee. “Households in the TVA footprint – especially Black, Brown, and low-wealth communities – will continue to be disproportionately burdened by high utility bills and dirty energy. Memphis already has one of the highest energy burdens in the country and now TVA is plowing toxic coal ash through our neighborhoods. TVA needs to focus on community resilience and redressing harms from its over-reliance on fossil fuels by transitioning to clean energy.”

“Communities near the Kingston and Cumberland Fossil plants deserve an economic transition that brings high-paying, sustainable jobs and development to those areas,” said Bri Knisley, Tennessee Campaign Manager at Appalachian Voices. “It’s wrong for TVA to push temporary solutions like gas plants onto communities that really need long-term investments.”

“People are fed up with TVA bowing to the fossil fuel industry and slow-walking renewable energy, so we’re pulling together to hold TVA’s feet to the fire,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, an energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “TVA officials have been ignoring the climate emergency and raking in huge profits, even as its customers face skyrocketing utility bills and one climate catastrophe after another. Tennessee Valley communities want leaders who are committed to 100% clean, renewable, and affordable energy and who will move swiftly to make that happen.”

President Biden has called for a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035. TVA – a federal agency – will only achieve 80% carbon emission reductions by that date. Further, President & CEO, Jeff Lyash, has stated the utility’s aspirations to retire its coal fleet by 2035 while relying on methane gas. The International Institute for Sustainable Development warns that to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius the U.S. must stop all oil and gas extraction by 2034.

“As the country’s largest public power provider, TVA must lead – not stand in the way of – the just transition to fossil-fuel-free energy,” said Maggie Shober, Research Director at SACE. “We can’t afford to rely on coal and gas that pollute our communities, burden customers with high and volatile prices, and send us further towards climate catastrophe. We are coming together to demand TVA turn things around by retiring coal and replacing it with clean and cheap energy efficiency and renewables.”

TVA lags behind other utilities in solar and clean energy investment, which produce as much as 15% of delivered energy with solar power. TVA is predicted to quadruple its solar capacity by 2024, but even then, it will trail behind other utilities in the Southeast at half the regional average. Solar with storage is already more cost-effective than methane gas. Renewable options offer many benefits, including improving community resilience, electricity affordability, and minimizing negative ecosystem impacts.

TVA needs to step up its energy efficiency and renewable energy offerings, so our power provider isn’t a tag along but a leader in the 21st century,” said Amy Kelly, Sierra Club’s Tennessee Beyond Coal Campaign Representative. “Local power companies are even exploring options to leave the utility altogether in search of cheaper, cleaner energy. This is not the legacy TVA wants to leave behind. It must reverse course and champion a new age for public power, centered on transparency, democracy, equity, and clean energy.”

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The Clean Up TVA coalition is committed to transforming TVA into a green utility by shutting down coal plants, preventing new fossil gas development, and accelerating a just transition to fossil-fuel-free, distributed renewable, affordable, and democratic energy for all communities and workers in the Tennessee Valley.

 

Join with Us to Take Action Now

US Capitol Building

Congress is asking TVA some hard questions

Congress is finally asking TVA some hard questions… many of the same questions we’ve been asking for years.

Questions like what’s up with all these fixed fees and grid access charges? Why are TVA customers paying more for energy than the average customer across the country? Why does TVA make it so difficult to go solar? And, why isn’t the TVA making a stronger effort to decarbonize?

The TVA is not a private company, but rather a federally created public utility. TVA was established by the Federal government to assist in the economic and physical development of the Tennessee Valley. But these days it’s being run more like a private corporation, where profits matter more than customers. As part of its mission, TVA is legally required to be a national leader in technological innovation and environmental protection, while providing low-cost power to municipalities, citizen cooperatives, and farmers.

On January 13, members of the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce wrote a letter to the CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) requesting information regarding business practices that are not in line with TVA’s legal requirement to provide low-cost power to the residents of the Tennessee Valley. The committee members also expressed concern that TVA is blocking the deployment of renewable energy.

The E&C Committee says that TVA is not upholding their statutory requirements on three points.

TVA is overcharging residents for electricity, causing particular suffering to the low-income households in the Tennessee valley.

Although TVA claims a commitment to low rates, in 2020 most of TVA’s customers faced electric bills above the national average, with many low-income households spending as much as 27% of their household income on energy. TVA believes this disparity may be connected to the TVA’s refusal to prioritize energy efficiency, while continuing to impose (and increase) fixed fees.

Although TVA admits that energy efficiency is critical to providing energy at the least cost to consumers, they cut energy efficiency programs by nearly two-thirds in the last eight years, and completely removed incentive programs that reward customers for choosing more efficient options. Additionally, TVA has added fixed fees, including grid access charges, to purposefully disincentivize customers from adopting energy efficient measures on their own. These fixed fees mean that customers are likely to face higher bills, even if they reduce their energy use.

 

TVA is blocking attempts by commercial and residential customers to adopt renewable energy.

In internal documents, TVA identified distributed energy sources (EG. a business/personal solar farm) as a threat to their business model. They also anticipated that their grid access charges would decrease the deployment of solar energy projects by 40 percent. Other documents show that they are allowing local utilities to add even more fees in an attempt to decrease adoption of solar energy.

 

TVA is not making proper efforts to decarbonize.

Although the E&C Committee commended TVA decarbonization efforts, the committee does not believe they are doing enough. The committee finds TVA’s goal to reduce carbonization only 7% by 2030 “unambitious.” The committee is concerned that the TVA continues to invest in new natural gas generation rather than deploying solar and wind energy. Almost a year after President Biden signed Executive Order 14008, which includes decarbonizing the electricity sector by 2035, TVA has yet to revise its plan for carbon emission reduction.

Congress has made efforts to protect TVA customers from predatory practices by requiring TVA explore all options and resources in their planning, including energy efficiency and renewable resources. Yet, as we’ve seen time and again, the TVA continues to prioritize high-cost fossil fuels and ignore the demand for cheaper alternative energy sources. We are happy to see that the E&C committee agrees and finds the TVA’s business practices are not in line with their statutory requirements, and this failure to comply is hurting not just the customers but the environment as well.

Read the full letter from the Committee.

TVA’s response is due by February 2, 2022. Energy Alabama is looking forward to seeing it! And, of course, we’ll be here to keep you updated.

Alabama Rural Electric Cooperative Scorecard

Rural electric cooperatives (RECs) were established in the 1930s to provide power rural areas not seen as profitable to large investor-owned utilities. In Alabama there are 22 rural electric cooperatives (RECs) providing power to over a quarter of Alabama residents (and over 70% of Alabama’s land mass).

Rural electric cooperatives are member-owned (ie. customer owned), and return excess profits to the members. As such, members have certain rights to transparency and equity; to be able to attend board meetings and have input into the decisions the board is making on their behalf.

In addition to understanding their rights, members need to be able to see that their co-op is serving them well. It’s easy to say you are satisfied with your service when you have nothing to compare that service to. That’s where the Alabama REC Scorecard comes in.

Our team has evaluated all 22 Alabama RECs and scored them on over 40 different variables across three key areas. These scores allow you to do a side-by-side comparison of your REC with others in the state (or even those in other states), to see how what you have now compares to what you could have.

Of course, it’s not that simple. We spent months reaching out to every Alabama REC, with too many refusing to answer our questions or even return our many calls and emails. Many of these same RECs offer little to no information online for their members, making it even more difficult to properly assess them.

Three key areas evaluated

Democratic governance includes the ability for members to access bylaws, attend board meetings, vote on bylaw amendments, and generally have a say in the way the cooperative is run.

Financial Transparency & Compensation include things like the number of board members, CEO/board compensation, ratio of CEO salary to median household income.

Member programs include things like on-bill financing, energy efficiency financing programs, community solar, and broadband internet.

 

Summary of Alabama REC Scores:

Only 18% of Alabama RECs regularly inform their members of the date and time of upcoming board meetings.

64% of Alabama RECs allow members to attend and address board meetings.

No Alabama RECs ensure that all members have access to (via website, mail, or other means) their incorporation documents, bylaws, meeting minutes, IRS compensation forms, general financial and operational data, and strategic plan summary.

Only half of Alabama RECs have their bylaws published on their website. This lack of access to cooperative bylaws significantly reduces the ability of members to participate in the cooperative’s electoral process, engage in the bylaw amendment process, and hold their co-op accountable for possible corruption or misconduct.

Alabama Rural Electric Cooperative Scorecard author Q&A

Alabama Rural Electric Cooperative Scorecard author Q&A

Individual Alabama Coop Scores

Arab Electric Cooperative (AEC) seems to be making efforts to increase the ability for member-owners to understand and participate in the decision-making process. They are one of only four RECs that provide meeting minutes on their website, and one of only two co-ops that has the right for members to attend board meetings (without prior written approval) written into the bylaws. AEC is the only co-op in Alabama to have term limits for board members. In August 2020, amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, AEC proposed a bylaw amendment to eliminate mail-in voting.
Overall score: 43/122

Arab Electric Cooperative is the only co-op in Alabama to have term limits for board members

Baldwin EMC
Overall score: 24/122

Black Warrior EMC 
Overall score: 30/122

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative held virtual meetings with sign-language interpretation during Covid-19 to ensure accessibility. At least half of current board members were appointed rather than elected.
Overall score: 39/122

Cherokee Electric Cooperative 
Overall score: 27/122

Clarke-Washington EMC
Overall score: 13/122

Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative
Overall score: 42/122

Covington Electric Cooperative has recently began development on a community solar garden (the first Alabama co-op to do so). This development is a direct result of their efforts towards democratic governance. Additionally, CEC is the only Alabama REC that allows members to vote early, by mail, in-person, and online. CEC has demonstrated a commitment to gender equality through bylaw amendments relating to pronouns. CEC is one of only three Alabama RECs to offer regular loan-based on-bill financing program.
Overall score: 59/122

Covington Electric Cooperative serves as a spectacular example of intentionally promoting member-owner engagement. Not only are they the only Alabama co-op to allow voting by all four means possible (in-person, early voting, by mail, and online), their move to allow online and mail-in voting resulted in their largest voter turnout ever.

Cullman Electric Cooperative is one of the clear winners when it comes to promoting electric vehicles. At their 2020 virtual annual meeting they held an EV information session and demonstration of the the EV and charger owned by the co-op. CEC provides information on their website regarding upcoming board meetings, as well as meeting minutes, and instructions on how members can propose bylaw amendments. However, members can only attend or speak at board meetings with prior approval.
Overall score: 55/122

Dixie Electric Cooperative offers heat-pump rebates and an off-bill financing program, and allows their members to vote both in-person and by mail.
Overall score: 37/122

Franklin Electric Cooperative
Overall score: 36/122

Joe Wheeler EMC
Overall score: 50/122

Marshall-Dekalb Electric Cooperative displayed troubling financial discrepancies between their public tax documents, resulting in inability to properly score them on compensation questions.
Overall score: 15/122

North Alabama Electric Cooperative
Overall score: 38/122

Pea River Electric Cooperative is one of only three Alabama RECs to offer regular loan-based on-bill financing program and water-heater rebates.
Overall score: 19/122

Pioneer Electric Cooperative held virtual meetings during COVID to ensure accessibility.
Overall score: 45/122

Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative
Overall score: 30/122

South Alabama Electric Cooperative (SAEC) displayed troubling financial discrepancies on their public tax documents, resulting in inability to properly score them on compensation questions. SAEC is one of only three Alabama RECs to offer regular loan-based on-bill financing program.
Overall score: 19/122

Southern Pine Electric Cooperative has a Member Task Force composed of 48 couples, 12 from each of the co-op’s four service areas. Task Force membership rotates annually giving members a chance to not only learn how their co-op works, and the needs it serves, but give feedback and serve in an advisory capacity.
Overall score: 26/122

Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative
Overall score: 21/122

Tombigbee Electric Cooperative
Overall score: 46/122

Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC) offers loan programs to provide seed money to generate economic development. WEC is one of only two co-ops that has the right for members to attend board meetings (and to do so without prior written approval) written into the bylaws. WEC further shows a dedication to transparency by providing an extensive FAQ on their website. WEC has demonstrated a commitment to gender equality through bylaw amendments relating to pronouns.
Overall score: 59/122

Wiregrass Electric Cooperative serves as a positive example of what transparency and accessibility should look like. They welcome members to attend meetings, and clearly inform members of upcoming elections and proposed bylaw amendments.

Some low scores may be due to lack of information. These RECs refused or failed to respond to requests for information: Arab Electric Cooperative, Baldwin EMC, Black Warrior EMC, Central Alabama Electric Cooperative. Clarke-Washington EMC, Pea River Electric Cooperative, Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative, South Alabama Electric Cooperative, and Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative. These RECs did provide some information requested but failed/refused to respond to other requests: Franklin Electric Cooperative, Joe Wheeler EMC, Marshall-Dekalb Electric Cooperative, and Southern Pine Electric Cooperative. Scores of zero were given when information was not available/provided to us. These failures to provide information likely resulted in lower scores than would have been earned had they provided accurate information.

VIEW THE FULL SCORECARD

There is room for improvement at all of the Alabama RECs, and we hope that this Scorecard serves to provide information to all about what improvements are possible and needed.

 

Have questions about the REC Scorecard? Drop them in the comments below.

Press Release: Energy Department Pushed for Roadmap on TVA’s Transition to 100% Just, Renewable Energy

For Immediate Release, July 29, 2021

Contact:

Gaby Sarri-Tobar, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 594-7271, gsarritobar@biologicaldiversity.org
Amy Kelly, Sierra Club, (423) 398-3506, amy.kelly@sierraclub.org
Zanagee Artis, Zero Hour, (860) 575-7535, zanagee@thisiszerohour.org
Dan Joranko, Tennessee Alliance for Progress, taptenn@gmail.com

Energy Department Pushed for Roadmap on TVA’s Transition to 100% Just, Renewable Energy

WASHINGTON— More than 80 energy justice, racial justice, faith and youth organizations urged the U.S. Department of Energy today to release a roadmap detailing how the Tennessee Valley Authority will transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

TVA is the nation’s largest public power provider, but the federally owned utility currently has no plan to achieve emission-free power. That’s despite President Joe Biden’s goal of decarbonizing the U.S. electricity sector by 2035.

In today’s letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Director of National Renewable Energy Laboratories Martin Keller, the groups called on the DOE to use TVA as a national laboratory to pioneer the country’s renewable and just energy transition.

“TVA can be the utility leader this country needs to tackle the climate emergency, but the Energy Department has to get involved,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, an energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With its current fossil fuel-friendly board and CEO, we’ll continue to see little progress in getting TVA on track to achieving 100% renewable and just energy by 2030. If Secretary Granholm’s team pushes TVA to make big changes, that could help revolutionize the entire U.S. energy system.”

TVA recently announced it would retire two of its four remaining coal plants, but the utility is considering replacing them with gas plants, furthering its dependence on fossil fuels. One of the coal plants is the Kingston Fossil Plant, which was the source of the largest industrial spill in U.S. history and resulted in a public health and environmental crisis.

TVA also announced this year a one-billion-dollar project for six new combustion turbine gas units at its Paradise and Colbert facilities. The utility plans to emit more than 34 million tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2038, according to its own projections. Currently just 3% of TVA’s energy supply comes from solar and wind.

“A 100% clean electric grid is doable and necessary,” said Amy Kelly, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in the Tennessee Valley. “We deserve an energy future that benefits everyone, especially communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, air and water pollution and fossil fuel consumption. DOE can harness the ingenuity of its national laboratories to pivot TVA’s heavy fossil fuel portfolio to one that is completely renewable and aligned with the administration’s decarbonization goal.”

In May TVA CEO and President Jeff J. Lyash said he wants to decarbonize TVA by 2050, but he did not explain how that would happen. Groups say the timeline is too short, given the severity of the climate emergency and growing energy insecurity. Even with this new goal, the utility continues to rely on false solutions like fracked gas that will worsen climate injustice in the Tennessee Valley.

“Transitioning America’s energy infrastructure to 100% renewable and just energy is key to mitigating the impacts of the climate emergency and advancing energy justice,” said Zanagee Artis, policy director of Zero Hour. “Our future depends on a rapid transition away from fossil fuel reliance, and TVA has a responsibility to its customers and the American people to rapidly transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030.”

“DOE can nudge TVA back to its environmental stewardship and pioneering spirit,” said Daniel Joranko, climate project director at Tennessee Alliance for Progress. “We are running out of time, and communities in the Tennessee Valley deserve a utility who will stand for a just transition, remediate the harms of its fossil fuel legacy and invest in solutions that will make our communities more resilient.”

TVA generates electricity for more than 10 million customers in Tennessee, northern Alabama, northeastern Mississippi, southwestern Kentucky and portions of northern Georgia, western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Sierra Club’s mission is to explore, enjoy and protect the planet. To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out those objectives.

Zero Hour is a global youth-led climate justice organization based in the US creating entry points, training, and resources for young activists and organizers wanting to take bold action to achieve climate justice. Together, we are a movement of unstoppable youth organizing to protect our right to natural resources and a clean, safe, and healthy environment that will ensure a livable future where we not just survive, but flourish.

Tennessee Alliance for Progress is a 20 year old statewide organization that advocates for social and energy justice. TAP convenes both Climate Nashville, and Climate Chattanooga and works in coalition across Tennessee working for a clean energy transition.

Press Release: TVA Office of Inspector General Urged to Begin Formal Investigation

For Immediate Release, May 26, 2021

Contact:Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, (256) 812-1431dtait@alcse.org
Gaby Sarri-Tobar, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 594-7271gsarritobar@biologicaldiversity.org
Brianna Knisley, Appalachian Voices, (937) 725-0645brianna@appvoices.org
Amy Rawe, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, (865) 235-1448amyr@cleanenergy.org

Documents: TVA Used $3M in Ratepayer Money to Fund Anti-Clean Energy Efforts

Office of Inspector General Urged to Begin Formal Investigation

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— Four nonprofit organizations called today for a federal investigation of newly uncovered records showing that the Tennessee Valley Authority used $3 million of ratepayer money to fund litigation and lobbying efforts by organizations that fight the EPA’s Clean Air Act rules. TVA is the largest public energy provider in the United States.

Today’s letter from Energy Alabama, the Center for Biological Diversity, Appalachian Voices and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy urged TVA’s Office of the Inspector General to begin a formal investigation to determine if the utility violated its board-approved policies.

Documents obtained recently through a Freedom of Information Act Request show that between 2015 and 2018, TVA staff spent more than $3 million in customer money on legal fees to the Utility Air Regulatory Group. The UARG is known for lobbying against science-based air pollution and climate regulation.

“Customers throughout the Tennessee Valley have been forced to pay for one arm of the federal government to take legal action against another arm of the federal government,” said Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of Energy Alabama. “It’s asinine and TVA would be better served investing in carbon-free technology like energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

“Rather than leading the way in cleaning up the energy sector, TVA is funding outside organizations actively fighting the renewable energy transition,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, energy justice campaigner in the Center’s Energy Justice program. “We call on TVA’s inspector general to ensure that the nation’s largest public energy provider stops abusing ratepayer funds in this manner.”

Last year, Energy Alabama, the Center, Appalachian Voices and others demanded that TVA stop giving millions of dollars in ratepayer money to the same groups at issue here. The rulemaking petition detailed that TVA is violating its customers’ First Amendment rights by compelling them to fund this work against the interest of Tennessee Valley communities. But this funding stream continues.

“Workers who cleaned up the Kingston spill in 2008 are still suffering and dying from their exposure to TVA’s toxic coal ash,” said Bri Knisley, Tennessee campaign coordinator at Appalachian Voices. “It’s shameful that after more than a decade of this suffering, TVA chose to spend more than $3 million of ratepayer money to fund a group that fights policies that protect our clean air and public health.”

“When the people of the Tennessee Valley pay their electric bills, they do not expect the utility to use their money to fight environmental regulations. And yet that is what TVA has done,” said Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “This is a breach of the regulatory compact that allows utilities their monopoly. Without the ability to switch to another provider, TVA customers are stuck paying for this unethical use of funds. It is even more egregious considering TVA is a part of the very federal government it is lobbying or litigating against.”

Last month, TVA CEO and President Jeff J. Lyash said he plans to decarbonize TVA by 2050, but he did not explain how TVA would achieve that nonbinding goal. Like other major utilities, TVA still depends heavily on fossil fuels. Even with this new goal, the utility plans to continue to build new fracked gas plants, relying on false solutions that will worsen climate injustice in the Tennessee Valley.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Energy Alabama is a membership-based nonprofit organization accelerating Alabama’s transition to sustainable energy. We accomplish our mission by educating at all levels, informing smart energy policy, building the next generation workforce, and providing technical assistance to deploy more sustainable energy. We believe in sustainable energy for all.

Appalachian Voices works at the nexus of the ongoing shift from fossil fuels to clean, 21st-century energy sources — we fight mountaintop-removal coal mining, fracked-gas pipelines and other harms to the people and places of Appalachia, and we advance energy efficiency, solar and wind power, and other economic solutions that create community wealth and sustain Appalachia’s mountains, forests and waters.

Since 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has worked to promote responsible and equitable energy choices to ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.