TVA, Killing Us Softly

We need to have a little chat about the Tennessee Valley Authority, aka, TVA (and by the way, on a “you didn’t build that” note? If you live in the seven-state Tennessee Valley region — almost all Red States, let me add — you are enjoying cheap power made possible by every taxpayer in the US of A. If you’ve got a factory or a business? You didn’t build that. Think VW or Nissan would open a factory here if we didn’t have a ready and reliable supply of cheap power? Yeah, seems the free market fairies didn’t have any incentive to wave their magic wands over this part of the country and bring flood control and electricity to the hicks and hayseeds here. It took that Commie Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress to do that. So suck on that one, why don’t you. But I digress).

First of all, TVA is ending its Generation Partners Program at the end of September and replacing it with something less attractive. They’re touting a 20-year contract, but they’re only buying energy at a premium (retail rate plus x-cents per KwH) for 10 years, and that amount is less than what those of us currently in the program receive. So they’re locking you in for a longer contract and paying you less. I’m still unclear as to what happens after 10 years, if they’ll just pay the base rate or if they expect you to give them the energy you generate for free. Surely … not?

With that in mind, let’s look at some other facts.

1- TVA really, really needs to improve its alternative energy investment. Like, really. On my latest “Green Power Switch” newsletter (that’s where customers voluntarily buy blocks of renewable energy at a cost of $4 per unit each month. It helps pay for stuff like the Generation Partners program), it broke down by actual percent which renewables comprise that program. Solar is a paltry 8%, which considering the investment in solar in this state — and the potential in the entire TVA region — is ridiculous. The bulk, actually, is biomass biogas. I don’t even consider that a renewable, frankly.


It’s actually worse than that. I finally found a link to the 2011 & 2012 “product content”. It’s 8% solar, 44% wind, and 48% biogas for 2012; in 2011, it was 14% solar, 32% biomass (not biogas, don’t know the difference) and 54% wind. That’s a huge shift.

I called TVA’s Renewable Energy Information Call Center and didn’t get a satisfactory answer to my question regarding the difference between biomass and biogas (both seem to be from agricultural waste?), let alone any information as to why TVA’s is purchasing less wind and solar this year versus last. I had to be transferred to TVA (that’s not who I was calling?) to get my very logcial questions answered. After getting transferred to TVA, waiting on hold, confusing another poor sop in the customer service department, waiting on hold again, and getting transferred to another person I got … voicemail.

* sigh *

Customer service FAIL.

Y’know, way, way back in another lifetime I actually worked for TVA. One thing I can tell you is that managers are forced to waste spend just ooodles amount of time going to training seminars, customer service seminars, this workshop thing, that off-site training doo-hickey. It’s amazing anyone can get anything done. And yet, you call to get two little perfectly logical questions answered and it’s like I asked them to explain the physics of a fucking nuke plant.

If I get any answers, y’all will be the first to know.

2- Right now we’re still dealing with the toxic aftermath of TVA’s December 2008 Kingston Coal Ash Spill, which dumped 1.1 billion gallons of coal slurry into the Tennessee, Clinch and Emory Rivers. That’s right, we’re still cleaning this mess up nearly four years later, and now it looks like we — oh and I do mean we, because that’s who’s paying for this, the ratepayers — will be out another $10 million for — get this — not to clean up the rest, oh no! But to “monitor” the ash and surrounding environment for 30 years. Yes because it’s just too fucking expensive to finish cleaning it up. I’m serious: they could spend up to $179 million cleaning up the “residual ash” (that’s on top of the $1.2 billion TVA estimated it would cost to clean up the bulk of the toxic mess). The rest, of course, got trucked to a landfill in the poor, predominantly African American Perry County, Alabama, where the people are so desperate for jobs they’ll happily pay the price of TVA’s dirty sins. Losses are always, always socialized by our poorest and most vulnerable. Shameful.

This is an untenable situation, not just for the people in Tennessee but for people far away who never used one kilowatt of the Kingston Fossil Plant’s energy. Seems like there could be a better way of generating electricity, one that doesn’t come with all of these social and financial costs. Oh, wait! There is! The program TVA is in the midst of killing.

TVA Invested In Clean Coal & All I Got Was A Billion Gallons Of Coal Sludge In My Living Room

And don’t think you can breathe a sigh of relief if you don’t live near Kingston. TVA operates 11 coal-fired plants and in 2009, storage problems were found at every one of them.

3- The NRDC has ranked Tennessee the 11th-worst state in the nation for coal-based air pollution. And we’re not even the worst in the TVA region! (click on the image to enlarge):

Hey Kentucky! You’re Number One!

The breakdown of where TVA states rank in this list is as follows:

1- Kentucky
8- North Carolina
9- Georgia
11- Tennessee
12- Virginia
14- Alabama
15- Mississippi

Yay, Mississippi! You’re finally last on a list that you want to be last on! Of course, you really don’t want to be on this list at all! (We keed, Mississippi. We keed because we lurve.)

So wrap your head around this one: every single TVA state is in the top of the “toxic 20” for electricity generation-related air pollution. TVA, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Really.

So let’s connect dots 1, 2 & 3 here: TVA’s anemic renewables program is getting less attractive to participants. But the way TVA currently generates electricity is toxic, costly and unsafe to both humans and the environment (and need I point out how redundant that is, because anything toxic to the environment is by default also toxic to humans. We cannot unhook ourselves from our planetary life support system).

Okay, anyone think this makes sense? No? Good.

The good news is that TVA is a quasi-public organization. The board is set by Congress. You can write your congress critters and tell them you want the board to reflect more sensitivity to renewables and environmental safety. Also, if you live in or near Knoxville, maybe you can sign up to speak at their August 16 board meeting. Maybe they need some Occupying to nudge them in the right direction.

Tell ’em Southern Beale sent ya.


Filed under alternative energy, ash spill, energy future, energy production, environment, Tennessee, TVA

11 responses to “TVA, Killing Us Softly

  1. Southern Beale:

    I’ve read a number of comments on other blogs wherein reiKKKwingnuts have stated that they want the TVA dismantled ‘cuz it’s bad (read “created by FDR”). I’m not sure that they understand that however much they think they’re getting fucked by (and, obviously, “surveilled” by) the TVA it will not get better if the grid in that neck-o-the-woods is completely privatized–with no gummint input.

  2. Kosh III

    Let’s not forget the excessive salaries the top ranks of TVA make, despite their incompetence at Kingston and other fiascos.
    The head, Kilgore got a $500,000 raise last year. When I complained to Sen. Lame-ar, he said he couldn’t do anything because Congress has no oversight power.
    Welcome to the Corporate States of Amerika.

  3. Scott Banbury

    The good news is that we can get rid of most of the dirty coal plants by simply increasing energy efficiency across the TVA service area by 1%.

  4. Bob Wallace

    Biomass is burning solids such as timber waste for electricity. Some coal plants have been converted fully or partly to biomass. Southern Company is, I think, building a biomass plant in one of the southern red states.

    Biogas is basically methane captured from landfills, sewage treatment facilities, and feedlots/dairies.

    Both are carbon neutral. No additional sequestered carbon is brought to the surface.

  5. Chris T.

    When you read “biogas”, think “poop”. Specifically cow poop, but any poop will do.

    As you may know, horse poop makes pretty good fertilizer, after you let it season a bit. This is actually true of many kinds of poop. However, most of them need to be treated first, by having bacteria work them over. These bacteria make methane, aka, “biogas”. If you provide the right environment, you get great topsoil AND biogas. It’s a pretty big win, really.

    When you grow crops (including both food crops, and trees) and there are stalks and stems and wood chips and such left over after harvest, you can burn those. That’s “biomass”. You can turn it into mulch (producing a bit of biogas along the way, usually) and recycle it into more crops, or you can burn it directly for energy. Right now, recycling tends to be better since burning it releases the carbon that the plants trapped in the growing process.

  6. Bob Wallace

    “Red States, … you are enjoying cheap power made possible by every taxpayer in the US of A.”

    Red State free marketers, sucking down socialized electricity.

    And where we’re seeing more nuclear being built, by the red state governments allowing utility companies to seize money from their customers to finance construction. No guarantee the plants will get finished and, if they do, ratepayers will see their rates increase. Wind and solar would drop electricity prices.

    Dishonesty – thy name is Southern Conservative.

  7. Interrobang

    The difference between biomass and biogas is basically processing and/or decomposition — biomass is usually pressed into some kind of pellets or something and then burnt, whereas biogas is created from fermenting or decomposing organic materials and collecting the outgassing (methane, usually), and burning that. The source material for both is usually byproducts of some sort — oranic industrial waste, animal/human excrement, compost…

  8. Jim

    Depending on the amount of energy bought in 2011 and 2012, it is possible that TVA bought more solar in 2012 than in 2011. It would just not be as big of an increase as the biomass/biogas growth.This would cause the percentages to change. They really should just report the kW supplied from each source as that is much more pertinent information than a nebulous percentage.

    • That’s a good point, however the product content link says that “the average home in the Tennessee Valley uses 1,335 KwH per month” based on EIA info. In 2011 that amount was 1,205 KwH per month. So residential use is up slightly. Don’t think it’s enough to make a nearly 50% decrease in solar be an actual increase.

      Also, if that IS the case, TVA can easily tell me that if anyone over there condescends to get back to me. I’m not holding my breath.

  9. jimvoorhies

    Beale, darling, I think biogas is the scientiffy-sounding name for using cowfarts for fuel.