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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.

 

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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.

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.

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.”

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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