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

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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