Appalachian Voices

Legal Petition Demands Tennessee Valley Authority Halt Electricity Shutoffs, Fund Debt Relief

For Immediate Release, August 25, 2020

Contact:

Howard Crystal, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 809-6926, hcrystal@biologicaldiversity.org
Brianna Knisley, Appalachian Voices, (937) 725-0645, brianna@appvoices.org
Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama, (256) 812-1431, dtait@alcse.org
Isabella Killius, Sunrise Tennessee, (615) 762-6665, sunrisetennessee@gmail.com

WASHINGTON— Dozens of climate-justice organizations petitioned the Tennessee Valley Authority today to immediately impose a moratorium on electricity shutoffs in the region and fund debt relief for its customers.

The petition also calls on the massive utility company to accelerate the Valley’s clean energy transition to address compounding COVID-19 unemployment, climate and racial injustice crises.

“TVA has the responsibility and the money to prevent people from needless suffering and crushing debt,” said Howard Crystal, legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program. “The company can seize this opportunity to genuinely serve the public interest and become a model for other utility companies. TVA must acknowledge the environmental damage from its dirty energy choices and chart a new course toward a clean, democratic energy future.”

Congress has yet to impose a federal moratorium on utility shutoffs, leaving thousands of families in TVA’s service territory at risk of losing electricity during a summer of climate-induced, record heatwaves.

“In the face of a public health, environmental and economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression, we are calling on TVA to return to its original mission to improve quality of life here in the Tennessee Valley,” said Brianna Knisley, Tennessee campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices. “TVA can and should protect vulnerable communities from power shut offs, eliminate unnecessary and harmful coal ash production, and bring new, public jobs to the Valley. At the very least, our public utility should be reaching out to communities to better understand their issues and needs during these critical times.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and related unemployment crisis have brought severe economic strain to the Southeast, a region where low-income communities, Black communities and other communities of color are already disproportionately burdened by pollution, high energy bills and utility shutoffs.

“If TVA wants to get serious about reducing the burden of COVID-19 on residents in the Valley, it is time for TVA to get serious about strong energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, specifically for low-income customers,” said Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of Energy Alabama.

The petition urges TVA to reallocate its vast resources to help customers pay their bills and fund equitable economic recovery through clean energy and efficiency programs. This would require a series of public hearings, which the petition says should begin as soon as possible.

“In the midst of the pandemic, when people are unemployed and without basic needs like power, food, water, and broadband services, TVA has a responsibility to support its customers by instituting a moratorium on utility shut-offs, thus upholding its original mission to serve the people of the Tennessee Valley,” said Isabella Killius with Sunrise Tennessee. “This petition encapsulates the need for institutional change within the TVA such that customers are provided adequate relief and, in addition, necessary actions are taken to mitigate the ongoing climate crisis.”

TVA has the funding and the mandate to provide debt relief to residential customers, rapidly retire its fossil fuel infrastructure, and invest in clean, distributed energy and energy efficiency efforts. These efforts will create local jobs vital to the region’s economic recovery.

The petition is named in honor of S. David Freeman, a former TVA board chair and a tireless advocate for renewable energy. The self-proclaimed “green cowboy,” who died in May, had sought for a long time to free people from polluting, centralized TVA power.

TVA is a federally owned corporation and the nation’s largest public power provider. It generates electricity for more than 9 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.

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.

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.

Sunrise Tennessee is a statewide coalition of Sunrise hubs that represents young organizers from Nashville, Knoxville, and Franklin, Tennessee. We are fighting for a Green New Deal on both state and federal levels, ensuring a just transition away from the fossil fuel economy and the creation of millions of good-paying jobs.

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RELEASE: Groups challenge TVA’s plan to lock local power companies into perpetual contracts

Contacts:
Scott Smallwood | SELC | ssmallwood@selcga.org | 770-598-0111
Ward Archer| Protect Our Aquifer | ward@protectouraquifer.org | 901-355-0515
Brianna Knisley | Appalachian Voices | brianna@appvoices.org | 937-725-0645
Daniel Tait | Energy Alabama | dtait@alcse.org | 256-812-1431

 

MEMPHIS, TN – The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of Protect Our Aquifer, Energy Alabama and Appalachian Voices, is challenging in federal court the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) monumental decision to implement never-ending contracts designed to keep local power distributors captive customers of the federal utility forever.

The contracts further entrench TVA’s control over a vast network of power systems across portions of seven Southeastern states. The never-ending contracts lock the federal utility’s local power customers into exclusive energy contracts likely to last forever which will forever deprive distributors and ratepayers the opportunity to renegotiate with TVA to obtain cheaper, cleaner electricity. The anticompetitive contracts also place harsh caps on the ability of local power companies to use renewable power from non-TVA sources, and they seek to guarantee that TVA’s customer base, made up of municipal and member-owned local utilities, never leaves the utility.

“TVA is using these eternal contracts to stamp out any competition for the next century,” said Amanda Garcia, SELC’s Tennessee office director. “These never-ending contracts threaten to prevent local distributors from ever renegotiating their contract with TVA, let alone consider leaving the utility if it continues to lag behind in transitioning towards cheaper, cleaner renewable energy. These contracts will take the public’s interest completely out of public power.”

Previously, the average length of the termination provision in the distributors’ contracts was under seven years, offering periodic opportunities for publicly- and member-owned utilities to revisit contract terms with TVA or seek cheaper, cleaner power elsewhere. The newly signed contracts, which require a 20 year notice to terminate, renew automatically each year so that the length of the contract term never ends. The complaint alleges that the contracts will have potentially significant effects on the environment, including, among other things, influencing TVA’s decisions to invest in energy resources, increasing greenhouse gases and other pollution, and increasing water usage across the Tennessee Valley.

“TVA’s continued reliance on fossil fuel resources has a lasting impact on Memphis’ primary drinking water source, the Memphis Sand Aquifer,” said Ward Archer, President of Protect Our Aquifer. “TVA has stored coal ash in a way that puts our drinking water aquifer at risk, and its use of billions of gallons of our clean drinking water to operate its gas plant for decades to come threatens the sustainability of our community. The public has a right for federal agencies to look at alternatives when making major decisions, and TVA deprived communities of that right before asking local distributors like Memphis Light, Gas & Water to sign these never-ending contracts.”

An important federal law requires TVA to analyze and disclose the consequences of major federal programs that may significantly affect the environment. That law also requires TVA to consider alternatives and seek public input about major proposals before TVA moves forward with the project. Conservation groups allege that TVA failed to meet the basic requirements of that law, called the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, before its monumental move to lock 138 of its 153 power distributors into these never ending contracts.

“While TVA keeps the lights on across the Valley, our utility kept the public in the dark around its game-changing decision to essentially trap power distributors’ customers and members in these regressive contracts for the foreseeable future,” said Brianna Knisley, Tennessee Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “Ultimately, TVA blocked an opportunity for the public to participate in a major policy decision that will likely stall our region’s critically needed transition to renewable resources.”

Last year, several of TVA’s distributors, including its largest customer, Memphis Light, Gas & Water, announced that they were evaluating whether to leave TVA in favor of cheaper, cleaner options. In response, TVA’s Board of Directors authorized the utility to restructure its relationship with its distributors by amending its power supply contracts to these never-ending contracts that automatically renew every year and include punitive 20-year notice of termination provisions.

“Over the past two years, TVA has taken a series of actions to further cement its monopoly status and shut down customers’ access to distributed energy resources, including solar power and energy efficiency programs,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Executive Officer at Energy Alabama. “As a result, TVA lags behind other utilities in our region, both in terms of renewable energy capacity and its overall commitment to decarbonize the grid. By locking in its customer base, TVA can dictate the pace of its energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy at whatever pace suits its own interests, rather than the interests of the communities it serves.”

The challenge also alleges that TVA violated the federal law that created the federal utility back in 1933 by entering into never-ending agreements with power distributors. That law, called the TVA Act, says that federal utility’s power supply contracts cannot exceed 20 years. By drafting the agreements so that they never expire, the conservation groups allege that TVA ran afoul of that limit on its monopoly power.

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