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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

Light Bulb 101

Energy Efficient Light Bulbs 101 – At Home

Confused by which light bulb to buy? We’ve put together a short primer to (ahem!) “shine some light” on the topic for you.

Here’s the key thing to know about light bulbs. If you buy junk, you’ll get junk. 

Quick facts:

  • It used to be that wattage of the bulb determined what you needed to buy. Not so much anymore. Lumens is what you should look for. The higher the lumens, the more light is output by the bulb.
  • Be wary of really cheap LEDs. More than likely they don’t last very long. LEDs are supposed to last well around 20 years. Cheap ones typically last for less than 10 years.
  • Only buy bulbs with an ENERGY STAR logo on them. This is the only way to know if a light bulb is truly a good purchase. In order to receive the ENERGY STAR logo, they can’t just save energy. They must be up to 90% more efficient than standard bulbs, last at least 15 times longer and save about $55 in electricity costs over their lifetime, meet strict quality and efficiency standards that are tested by accredited labs and certified by a third party, and produce about 70-90% less heat (safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling). This is why cheap LEDs, which save energy, cannot get the ENERGY STAR logo.

So let’s get started!

Incandescent Bulbs:  These are what I call the “old-fashioned” bulbs though they are becoming less standard all the time.


Pros: They create warm light. They are also inexpensive to purchase.

Cons: They wear out quickly, use more energy, and create more heat. That means more frequent replacement (may outweigh the low sticker price) and more energy use.

Life: 800 – 1,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~ $1 per bulb

Dimmable: Yes

Energy used: ~.06 Kilowatts (kW)

CFL-light-bulb

www.lightingandmaintenancesolutions.com


 

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) Bulbs: The second generation to the humming tubes hanging in your dad’s basement workshop, these are the curly-shaped little darlings.

When we first moved away from incandescent bulbs, critics of the CFL cried ugly because they produced a cool, harsh, light with blue undertones. As technology has advanced, CFLs can be found in warmer color spectrums that are closer to the traditional incandescents.

Pros: CFLs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. They also produce less heat than their incandescent counterparts (approximately half, depending on the bulb).

Cons: CFLs contain mercury. They are more expensive than standard incandescent bulbs and are arguably less attractive. Designers will not select this bulb.

Life: 6,000 – 15,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~ $2 per bulb

Dimmable: No (dimmable options may be available for purchase)

Energy Used: ~.014 Kilowatts (kW)


LED (Light Emitting Diode): The energy superstars of the group. Depending on the brand and variety, they can last from 2 – 25 years. Put them in your teenagers’ bedrooms. You know they’re not switching them off.

Pros: LED bulbs produce less heat and last a long time. New LED bulbs can cast that warm-colored light we love. LEDs don’t break when jostled, a huge factor in busy manufacturing sites and industrial areas. Best of all, they don’t contain mercury.

Cons: LED technology is moving quickly.  Some of these bulbs still create directional light, but most newer versions disperse light better.  Lastly, LEDs do have a slightly higher upfront cost.

Life: 50,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~$1.25 – ~$20

Dimmable: Yes (non dimmable options are available)

Energy used: ~.008 Kilowatts (kW)

Sustainable Efforts for Light Bulbs:

  • Place your lights on a dimmer. It can save up to 50% in energy costs. Remember, most CFLs and even some LEDs aren’t dimmable. You’ll need to look for and specifically buy dimmable bulbs.
  • Turn out the lights: One incandescent bulb left on 8 hours costs ~ 6 cents. 5 incandescents burning 8 hours cost ~ 30 cents which equates to $110/year. 2 porch lights, 1 kitchen light, 1 family room light, and 1 bathroom light burning. These costs can start to add up quickly.
  • Recycle:  CFLs contain mercury and all bulbs take up space in landfills. The good news is it’s easy to recycle your old bulbs. You can even bring them to your neighborhood hardware stores. Visit this site http://search.earth911.com/ and type in your zip code for recyclers near you

 

Comparison Between LED, CFL and Incandescent Light Bulbs:

 

LEDCFLIncandescent
Lifespan in hours50,0009,0001,200
Watts (equivalent 75 watts)7.51460
Cost per bulb$2$2$1
Daily cost*$0.008$0.011$0.048
Annual cost*$2.92$4.09$17.52
Cost for 50k hours$50$70.00$300.00
Bulbs needed for 50k hours1642
Total cost for 50k hours with bulb price$52.92$82.00$342.00

Source: http://energyusecalculator.com/electricity_cfllightbulb.htm

*Cost is based on $0.10/kWh, with bulb on for 8 hours per day

Conclusion:

  • Try to buy LEDs everywhere you can, but if you can’t, target your high use areas first! If you have incandescents, go ahead and replace them. If you have CFLs, wait until they die, and then upgrade.
  • LEDs have gotten extremely cheap! Off brand is perfectly fine to buy, as long as they have the ENERGY STAR logo.
  • Make sure to match lumens, not watts. Take your old bulbs with you to the store and look for the LEDs that have close to the same lumens, not watts. You may have a 60 watt incandescent only to find a 40 watt ‘equivalent’ LED is actually what you need.