News + Media

RELEASE: Lawsuit Filed Over TVA’s Millions in Payments to Dirty Energy Lobbyists

For Immediate Release, September 9, 2021

Contact: Howard Crystal, (202) 809-6926, hcrystal@biologicaldiversity.org

 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— The Center for Biological Diversity and allies sued the Tennessee Valley Authority today over millions of dollars in ratepayer money the public utility diverts to anti-environmental advocacy groups like the Edison Electric Institute and the Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition. The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee, seeks an order compelling the utility to address a 2020 petition and supporting evidence seeking to regulate this kind of spending.

The petition detailed how these and other trade associations litigate and lobby to delay the critical transition to clean energy, hamper efforts to combat the climate emergency, and deny protections to imperiled wildlife. For example, TVA paid approximately $200,000 to the Utility Water Act Group, which opposes Clean Water Act protections, in 2018 alone; it pays dues of around $500,000 each year to be a member of the Edison Electric Institute, which similarly advocates against decarbonization. TVA, the petition asserted, is violating its customers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to fund these groups.

So far the utility has refused to address the issue.

“Our communities already shoulder among the highest energy burdens in the country,” said Marquita Bradshaw, executive director of Sowing Justice. “It adds insult to injury for TVA to be sending ratepayer funds to groups that are directly undermining the urgent transition away from the fossil fuel plants disparately impacting frontline communities.”

“As the nation’s largest public power provider and a federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority needs to demonstrate leadership by halting the financing of groups propping up the fossil fuel economy,” said Howard Crystal, legal director at the Center’s Energy Justice program. “Instead it funds these groups to do its dirty work while it moves forward with building new fossil gas plants. TVA can and must do better.”

“TVA has forced its customers to make political speech by taking money from their utility bills and using it for anti-clean energy advocacy,” said Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of Energy Alabama. “We have repeatedly called on the TVA inspector general to investigate this misuse of customer funds but after hearing and seeing nothing, we felt compelled to act.”

“TVA ratepayers want energy freedom,” said Glen Brand, director of policy and advocacy for Solar United Neighbors. “TVA shouldn’t be using their money to take that freedom away. It should use that money to help them save money and take control of where their electricity comes from with rooftop solar energy. It shouldn’t be shoveling it to monopoly utility front groups like the Edison Electric Institute.”

“TVA is unique in the power industry in that environmental stewardship and economic development are codified in the agency’s founding mission,” said Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It is imperative that the largest public power utility operate with accountability and transparency, stop funding anti-environment and anti-green jobs work, and invest in clean energy that will support the health of the Valley and the people who depend on it.”

Today’s suit follows a separate petition the Center filed earlier this year before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concerning private utility funding of these same groups. That petition, which is pending, would amend FERC’s Uniform System of Accounts to make these payments presumptively non-recoverable from ratepayers, which would force utilities to either demonstrate how funding these groups is in the public interest or provide this funding from shareholders rather than ratepayers.

These initiatives are part of a growing movement against the longstanding practice of allowing utilities to charge ratepayers for advocacy that serves the utility’s own interests rather than ratepayers. This includes a recent decision from Kentucky utility regulators denying ratepayer recovery for EEI dues, and a new New York law that precludes utilities from recovering for payments to trade groups engaged in lobbying.

###

Energy Alabama is a membership-based non-profit 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.

RELEASE: Scorecard Shows Lack of Transparency, Poor Access to Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy at Alabama’s Electric Cooperatives

Contact:
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, (256) 812-1431, dtait@alcse.org
Kyle CriderAlabama Interfaith Power & Light, (2053065811, kyle@thepeoplesjusticecouncil.org

Fewer than half of Alabama’s electric cooperatives allow their member-owners to attend board meetings, half do not make their governing documents available online, and none offer community solar programs, according to a new report released today by Energy Alabama and Alabama Interfaith Power & Light. The report evaluated the performance of Alabama’s electric co-ops on a number of issues, from governance and finances to the programs they make available to their members.

The groups examined Alabama’s 22 electric co-ops and ranked them on best practices determined by advocacy groups and member-owners. Of a total of 120 points, no co-op scored higher than 59. >>See the online scorecard here.

“Electric cooperatives are supposed to be based on the involvement and authority of its member-owners,” said Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama’s Chief Operating Officer. “But this scorecard shows that most electric cooperatives in the state are failing to live up to their principles.”

“By practice and by law, co-ops are supposed to operate by the principles of democracy. It’s shocking that any of these electric co-ops would attempt to keep their member-owners from attending a board meeting. Electric cooperatives are largely exempt from state oversight and it has real world consequences,” said Kyle Crider, Alabama Interfaith Power & Light’s Program and Policy Director.

The scorecard found that all of Alabama’s co-ops have a monthly fixed charge of more than $15, significantly higher than recommended fixed charges determined by utility ratemaking experts like the Regulatory Assistance Project. High fixed fees present a particularly steep financial challenge for lower-income members, especially those currently struggling during the COVID-economic crisis, and for those pursuing energy efficiency and renewable energy options.

“Community solar and on-bill energy efficiency financing programs can lower members’ electricity bills while promoting local economic development and reducing fossil fuel emissions. Alabama co-ops are neglecting opportunities to promote cleaner, healthier communities,” said Ruby Krasnow, researcher with Energy Alabama and the author of the report.

“Alabama’s electric cooperatives were created decades ago to provide electricity and opportunity to Alabamians who were largely ignored by the investor-owned utility companies of the time,” said Tait. “Rural America needs cooperatives to deliver again, not shirk their responsibilities. Broadband, clean energy, bill savings, rural investment. All are possible with proactive cooperatives.”

The groups acknowledged that more than half of the cooperatives scored are developing or partnering with local companies to bring broadband to their communities, but noted that the co-ops could be doing more to improve quality of life for their member-owners through energy efficiency programs, community solar and by lowering the fixed charges on monthly electric bills.

###

About Alabama Interfaith Power & Light
The mission of Alabama Interfaith Power & Light (ALIPL) is to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to climate change through the promotion of environmental justice, energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy from a faith perspective. ALIPL is a program of The People’s Justice Council and sponsors such campaigns as the Interfaith Statement on Energy & Equity and Weatherizing Every Residence in the South East (WERiSE).

About Energy Alabama
Energy Alabama is a membership-based non-profit 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. Learn more at energyalabama.org

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.

RELEASE: Clean Energy Advocates Call On TVA to Halt Its Plans for New Gas, Align with Federal Goals

March 16, 2021
Contact:
Maggie Shober, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, maggie@cleanenergy.org865-235-1448
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, dtait@alcse.org256-812-1431
Jonathan Levenshus, Sierra Club, jonathan.levenshus@sierraclub.org202-590-0893

Knoxville, Tenn. — Clean energy groups, in public comments submitted on March 13, are calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to halt its plans for a massive build-out of gas-fired power plants that are inconsistent with President Biden’s call for net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035. The Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Energy Alabama argue that new gas is costly, adds significant risk to customers and that TVA failed to analyze any alternatives such as energy efficiency or renewable energy should it need new capacity.

In February, TVA released an Environmental Assessment containing plans to build 1.5 gigawatts of new peaking gas-fired power plants, three new combustion turbines in Alabama totaling 750 megawatts, and three in Kentucky totaling 750 megawatts. President Biden signed a series of executive orders in late January, days before TVA announced its gas additions, to help achieve a “carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035” and the President called on the federal government to leverage its footprint and buying power to “lead by example.”

“The environmental, public health and economic impacts of gas aren’t going away, and there’s little chance of our nation affordably meeting President Biden’s achievable carbon reduction goals if we increase our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Jonathan Levenshus from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “TVA should be winding down its use of gas to power our homes and businesses, not ramping it up.”

“The decision by TVA to replace one fossil fuel with another locks the utility into gas for decades,” said Keith Johnston, Director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Birmingham office. “TVA did not properly consider other energy resources, such as energy efficiency, renewables and demand response programs, that could alleviate this need for more fossil fuels.”

TVA’s high wholesale power cost, driven largely by expensive coal plants, debt, and historic underinvestment in energy efficiency, has some local utilities considering a departure from TVA and potentially procuring power elsewhere. TVA’s lack of energy efficiency drives bills up for all customers.

“The TVA territory is home to some of the highest energy burdens – measured by the proportion of income spent on energy – in the country,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama. “TVA’s failure to even consider energy efficiency, renewable resources, or demand response will exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.”

“At a time when TVA’s future customer base and business model are in question, we cannot afford to increase the risk for even more stranded assets,” said Maggie Shober, Director of Utility Reform for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “TVA must get serious about modernizing its infrastructure rather than doubling down on the infrastructure of the last century.”

###

About Energy Alabama
Energy Alabama is a 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. energyalabama.org

About Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.8 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.

About Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes equitable and responsible energy choices to ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.

About Southern Environmental Law Center
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org