Category Archives: TVA

Should We Nationalize The Grid?

This happened in Nashville yesterday:


A flotilla of kayakers paddled through downtown Nashville on the Cumberland River on Saturday, holding a banner reading: “Let’s move TVA beyond coal.”

It was a message from the Sierra Club, highlighting what it sees as a need for stronger federal standards to limit toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants. Ultimately, the group is calling for the shuttering of Tennessee Valley Authority coal plants.

TVA’s coal plants have brought us tragedies like the Kingston coal ash spill, which as I observed at the time was merely an extreme example of a widespread problem. Tennessee is uniquely suited to solar and TVA could easily expand its popular Generation Partners program. Through this program, people like us who have solar panels on our residential rooftops sell our extra production to TVA at a slight premium. It’s small compared to other states — 12-cents a kWh, plus the retail rate (which fluctuates but right now is 9 cents a kWh) — but it helps to offset the enormous cost of installing these systems.

Instead of expanding its renewables, TVA has engaged in a bit of foot-dragging. This is not surprising to anyone with a brain; unless there’s some kind of cap-and-trade or carbon tax program put into play, utilities — even quasi-public ones like TVA — really don’t have an incentive to play nice with people like us, other than for the obvious PR value.

Sure, groups like the Sierra Club can remind everyone of the enormous costs of coal, and how alternatives like nuclear are not really economically viable, either. Last I checked, the Kingston mess cost TVA (and us ratepayers) $1 billion.

But while rooftop solar makes a lot of sense economically, it’s also the power industry’s biggest threat. There’s simply no reason why a power company would want to hand over power production to the people. We’re technically putting them out of business, one rooftop at a time. Instead of us buying power from them, we’re selling it to them. That kinda turns the power provider/customer relationship on its head.

And increasingly, the utilities are not happy about it.

Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry.

According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity — the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates — accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s power generation.

And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid.

This is the age-old conundrum that goes back to the ’70s when President Carter put solar panels on the White House roof. If individual households can generate their own power, then what do we need big utilities for? It’s the “hard path”/”soft path” debate we’ve always had. Big solar farms or individual rooftops? Right now it’s a mixture of both but off on the sidelines, behemoth utilities are trying to push out the little guys: yes, we can have a few mom and pop rooftop operations, for the photo op, but not too many. Too many and suddenly nobody needs Duke Energy anymore.

And of course the issue has become even more pressing as our transportation gets electrified, and as technological advances make storage less of an issue. If TVA wants to dick around with us solar folks, screw ’em. We’ll go off the grid.

Ah, the grid. So, the utilities say, we maintain this grid, and you use it when you leave your solar-powered home, so suck it up. They may have a point, but the solution is simple: nationalize the grid.

Seriously, why the hell not? The power grid is a mess, a hodgepodge cobbled together with spit and a prayer. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the power grid in recent weeks and I’m definitely not an expert but it sure seems like we desperately need to make a big change, soon. And it seems like the country’s electrical grid, like things like highways and the armed forces, is something you want to be uniform and reliable and stable, without the fluctuations that come when you let “market forces” do the picking.

So far the only thing I’ve seen about nationalizing the power grid are on far-right tinfoil hat conspiracy websites. They seem to find the idea verrry scaaaary. But no one has told me why nationalizing the power grid is a bad idea, aside from a reflexive allergic reaction to the word “nationalize.” (For people who profess to love the nation so much, I don’t get that … but whatever!)

The energy sector is changing faster than anyone anticipated. I can foresee a day in, say, 15 years when individual homes and businesses are powered by rooftop solar, we all drive around on electric cars, and vehicle-to-building technology is as ordinary as apple pie. I know it’s hard for some folks to imagine that the authoritarian Big Daddy utility may be going the way of the dinosaur, but if their best argument against technological advancement is, “it will put us out of business,” well, my answer is: so what. Adapt or die.

It’s kinda like our health insurance industry. What purpose do they serve any more? They aren’t pooling risk to lower cost, which was their reason for existence in the first place. All they do is skim profit off the top to buy an insurance company CEO a gigantic house. Sorry, but that’s kind of a sign that your business model is now rrelevant. If that’s the best case you can make, well, sorry, Charlie.

We aren’t there yet for power companies, not even close … but it appears the mere threat of such a thing has utilities shitting their pants. To which I say: adapt or die. Why should we keep you around just for nostaligia’s sake? Good lord, if the Tea Party and Americans For Prosperity had been around 100 years ago, they’d have been fearmongering about automobiles and telling us how great the horse and wagon is.

I dunno. We need to start getting shit done in this country. Has everyone forgotten about the time the Northeastern power grid failed? That 10th anniversary is right around the corner. That might be a good time for us to start talking about this stuff.


Filed under energy future, energy production, solar energy, TVA

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

>Hey TVA: Have You Read Your Mission Statement Lately?


Amazingly, TVA had no legal obligation to keep this from happening!

I guess this is some kind of legal maneuver over “standing” or some such (I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer), but apparently the Tennessee Valley Authority’s lawyers claim that 58 people suing over the Kingston coal ash spill were not harmed by their 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry spill back in December 2008.

The money quote is this:

The motion filed in Knoxville said TVA has no legal obligation to keep its reservoirs safe for public recreational use and enjoyment.

Really? You so sure about that?:

Mission Statement

The mission of the Tennessee Valley Authority is to develop and operate the Tennessee River system to improve navigation, minimize flood damage, and to provide energy and related products and services safely, reliably, and at the lowest feasible cost to residents and businesses in the multi-state Tennessee Valley region. TVA’s integrated management of the entire Tennessee River watershed optimizes the benefits of the water resource. Major functions of the corporation include:

• Management of the Tennessee River system for multiple purposes including navigation, flood control, power generation, water quality, public lands conservation, recreation, and economic development;
• Generation of electricity;
• Sale and transmission of electricity to wholesale and large industrial customers;
• Stimulation of economic development activities that generate a higher quality of life for citizens of the Tennessee Valley;
• Preservation and environmentally-sensitive management of TVA assets and federal lands entrusted to TVA; and
• Research and technology development that addresses environmental problems related to TVA’s statutory responsibilities for river and land management and power generation.

Again, I’m not a lawyer, but it sure sounds to me like TVA has a legal obligation to keep its reservoirs safe for public recreational use and enjoyment. We’re always hearing about TVA’s tri-fold mission of power generation, economic development and natural resource management. It’s something they tout everywhere, including places like this:

What is TVA?

The Tennessee Valley Authority is a federal corporation and the nation’s largest public power company. As a regional development agency, TVA supplies reliable, competitively priced power, supports a thriving river system and stimulates sustainable economic development in the public interest. TVA operates fossil fuel, nuclear and hydropower plants, and also produces energy from renewable sources. It manages the nation’s seventh-largest river system to reduce flood damage, produce power, maintain navigation, provide recreational opportunities and protect water quality in the 41,000-square-mile watershed.

I realize lawyer-types like to weasel their way around the law by saying things like “our client has no legal obligation to keep its reservoirs safe for public recreational use and enjoyment,” leaving us all to assume that whatever river and land management they’ve done up to this point has been out of the goodness of said clients’ hearts. But having worked for TVA in a former life and constantly having their trifold mission drilled into my head I am thinking … no. I have to say all of us in the Tennessee Valley are certainly operating under the assumption that there is a legal obligation to manage the river system for things like recreation which, let’s face it, is a key part of the economic development picture.

But again, I’m not a lawyer. I will say this: if the courts agree that TVA has no legal obligation to keep its reservoirs safe for public recreational use and enjoyment, then the first order of business should be amending the TVA Act to make sure that they do.


Filed under ash spill, clean coal, legal, TVA

Turning A New Leaf

[UPDATE]: Just in the nick of time, too.


Sorry, the headline is lame, I’m still on my first cup of coffee (which is how most of my posts are written), but I find this very exciting news:

State officials hope to give a boost to electric car sales with a $2,500 incentive to early buyers of the Nissan Leaf in Tennessee via a program that could later be extended to buyers of other alternative fuel vehicles.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, speaking during a TVA conference on electric vehicles Wednesday, said the state plans to tap a petroleum escrow fund marked for energy projects to provide rebates of $2,500 to the first 1,000 buyers of the new Nissan Leaf electric car later this year.

“There’s no reason Tennessee can’t take the lead … in the development of electric vehicles,” the governor said. “We want their components to be made here and sold worldwide with a ‘Made in Tennessee’ label.”

The $2.5 million state program, which provides perks on purchases in addition to generous federal incentives to buyers of electric cars, makes Tennessee at least the second state with such extra benefits. California has a $5,000 incentive for buyers of all-electric, plug-in vehicles.

I might as well ‘fess up and let everyone know I’ve been on the waiting list for the Nissan Leaf for the past five months. I work from home so it’s perfect for someone like me: My driving is mostly around town doing errands, going to hockey and football games, shopping, etc. I have solar panels on my roof so I won’t have to feel too guilty about the electricity I’m using for fuel. And our garage is perfect for installation of a home charger. Mr. Beale already drives a Nissan but his car was getting some mileage on it. So we’ll trade it in for a Leaf, and we’ve got the hybrid if we need to drive further than 100 miles, which is maybe eight times a year.

Anyway, I’m excited about the new incentives. There’s so much right about this program, not the least of which is the fact that these cars are made right here in Tennessee. I love that I’m creating jobs for my neighbors and also helping the environment.

I know our state gets a bum rap for a lot of the silly stuff we do, but the Tennessee EV program is actually quite advanced. We’re actually way ahead of states like Vermont and Oregon and whatnot, states one usually assumes to be green and progressive. We’ll have a network of charging stations so I could, actually, drive my EV all around the state (and perhaps I will and blog about it):

Jonathan Read, CEO of San Francisco firm ECOtality, said Tennessee would be the first state to take the electric vehicle beyond the 100-mile range that is rapidly becoming the standard for all-electric mass-production vehicles like the forthcoming Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric expected next year.

He said: “With these plans completed, the state of Tennessee will emerge as a leader in EV adoption, and serve as a critical blueprint for how best to connect major population areas with EV infrastructure.

“We are thankful for the input TVA and our partners in each city have provided throughout the planning process. We are taking a smart and strategic approach to the deployment of EV infrastructure so as to best create a connected, highly functional EV charging network,” added Mr Read.

Kim Greene, president of Strategy and External Relations at TVA, said there was a “groundswell of enthusiasm” already growing in the TVA area and the entire state as a result of The EV Project.

I’m just so proud of our state for being leaders in this critically important area. I’m proud of TVA and I’m proud of Gov. Bredesen.

And I’m worried. Just a teensy weensy bit worried. Because here’s the thing that’s so radical about EVs: no internal combustion engine! Wrap your head around that one for a minute. That means no tailpipe. That means no gas station stops — ever. No need for fill-ups. No need for oil changes. Nada.

The only reason you will ever need to stop at a gas station is to buy a soft drink. And think about how Mr. Haslam’s family makes its money: gas stations. So, if Bill Haslam is our next governor (and it’s looking likely) I do have a concern that he will self-servingly try to obstruct this program. It’s mostly a federal program and he can’t mess with it too much, I don’t think, and it looks like it may be too far along for him to screw it up even if he wanted to, but I think it’s a fair question.

Having seen the excellent documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?” and seen how politics can destroy a pilot program (especially when the corporation behind it isn’t fully on board) I think my fears are justified.

In California, people literally were trying to hide their EV’s from GM. The auto maker went around and repossessed every car it could find when Bush’s EPA challenged the state’s air quality law which created the market for EVs. Eventually every EV was crushed. Stupidly, of course, but they did it. It was about politics, nothing more, and GM paid for its stupidity and short-sightedness. Let’s hope they learned a lesson because the EV ain’t dead, it’s alive and well and the wave of the future.

And I am just putting Nissan and Bill Haslam and the oil lobby on notice: not again. From my cold, dead hands, people.


Filed under electric car, environment, Gov. Bredesen, Tennessee, TVA

>Good News, Bad News

>First, the good:

KNOXVILLE — TVA is reversing course and resuming new enrollments in its Generation Partners pilot project to encourage renewable energy use throughout its service territory after being criticized by area alternative energy contractors.

The federal utility made the announcement this afternoon after meeting with contractors who have complained that TVA’s recent decision to suspend the Generation Partners program will harm their business.

This is great news. Momentum continues to build for alternative energy in the Tennessee Valley, and TVA has decided to stick with its successful, though modest, incentive program. It only makes sense; as was pointed out here, TVA is spending $3 billion cleaning up the Kingston Fossil Plant’s coal sludge spill, yet devotes just $50 million to its solar program. Sorta like BP spending $20 billion to clean up the Deepwater Horizon mess, when it could have spent $500,000 on a blowout preventer. Very, very stupid.

Now, the bad news:

But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters.

All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort.

But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.

Well that’s special. BP doesn’t exactly have a proven track record, yet they were allowed to dump a 31-acre pile of gravel in the water to classify their risky, untested drilling operation as “onshore”? That just screams Bush Administration-style shuck and jive, doesn’t it?

It gets worse:

Rather than conducting their own independent analysis, federal regulators, in a break from usual practice, allowed BP in 2007 to write its own environmental review for the project as well as its own consultation documents relating to the Endangered Species Act, according to two scientists from the Alaska office of the federal Mineral Management Service that oversees drilling.

The environmental assessment was taken away from the agency’s unit that typically handles such reviews, and put in the hands of a different division that was more pro-drilling, said the scientists, who discussed the process because they remained opposed to how it was handled.

“The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre,” one of the federal scientists said.

The scientists and other critics say they are worried about a replay of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because the Liberty project involves a method of drilling called extended reach that experts say is more prone to the types of gas kicks that triggered the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

I’m sorry, but why are we allowing this to move forward? Now that we know BP ain’t exactly honest brokers here, that their accident “response” plan for the Gulf of Mexico included such impossible scenarios as walruses in the Gulf of Mexico, that they cut corners and were blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes. That pretty much proves they aren’t paying close attention to stuff like safety and environmental protection. And we’re going to let yet another “never been done before” drilling operation move forward?

I’ve said it before a thousand million gazillion times but I’ll say it again: the easy oil is gone. All that’s left are oil reserves that are more difficult, more expensive, and riskier to tap. This means for a company like BP to make money, they will cut corners and they will take unnecessary risks. Their business model depends on it.

Look, now that we know what we know, it is unconscionable to allow this project to move forward without, at the very least, a more thorough review of safety and risks. C’mon, people. Don’t be stupid.


Filed under alternative energy, Big Oil, solar energy, TVA

>The Future Is Now

>I read stories like this and I just have to shake my head at how short-sighted we all are:

TVA program that spurs solar installations put on hold

Generation Partners not taking new participants

TVA’s popular program that pays homeowners and businesses to generate electricity from solar energy has hit a wall.

Much of the $50 million set aside for the Generation Partners program has been committed as applications from even more would-be participants stack up.

Costly, mega projects by opportunistic investors may be eating up the money — versus smaller solar installations by homeowners or businesses that need the power themselves and for whom the program has been largely pitched.

Tennessee Valley Authority officials told a group of distributors that administer the program through formal agreements on Wednesday that a moratorium was being imposed.

Got that? Those “opportunistic investors” (I’m sorry, is there another kind? Altruistic ones, perhaps?) are sucking TVA dry of solar funds. So they will have to put a moratorium on the solar program because it’s just too darned successful.

Which just makes me wonder: when, yea Gods, will renewable energy finallly be able to prove it’s competitive in the marketplace? [/Snark]

Yes, I am being sarcastic. Yes, I know solar is subsidized. Guess what, so are fossil fuels. So is coal. It’s all subsidies. What the hell was the Interstate Highway System but one big subsidy to oil companies, refineries and the automobile industry? What is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve but a giant taxpayer-funded subsidy to Big Oil?

When you privatize the gains of offshore oil drilling and mountaintop removal mining but socialize the losses in the form of a destroyed Gulf Coast, ruined mountains, acid rain, poisoned streams, lung disease, lost fishing and tourism industry etcetera etcetera, that is a freaking subsidy. Just sayin’.

And that’s not including actual, you know, subsidies that Senators throw hissy fits over when you take them away. Why are taxpayers putting $2.3 billion in coal subsidies?

But back to our story:

Steve Johnson, with LightWave Solar Electric, is worried about the program ending.

It has helped his company grow over the last few years from one person to 18, with a new hire coming in next week.

Without the various solar incentives — Tennessee state government doesn’t offer any for residences — jobs will likely be lost and the fledgling industry could start to slide, he said.

“They’re spending $3 billion cleaning up from coal,” Johnson said, referring to money spent on TVA’s Kingston coal ash spill and re-tooling its other ash sites.

“This $50 million is a drop in the bucket. It would be nice if we had a $3 billion budget because we would actually be producing electricity with it — cleanly.”

In the interest of full disclosure, as many of you know I am a Generation Partner and Lightwave installed my array. They are good people, and this is a good program. I hope TVA is true to its word and the moratorium is, indeed, temporary.

I just don’t understand why we are spending so much money propping up a dead, polluting, environmentally destructive energy system. Especially when it’s obvious that people want solar power. They want to get in on the new thing that is the wave of the future. Why are utilities putting up obstacles?

With every passing day it is more obvious that fossil fuels are an outmoded, old fashioned, inefficient, dying energy source. The future is in renewables and it’s happening whether TVA or politicians or anyone else likes it or not.

Here’s yet another example of how I know I’m right. Read this article about BP’s former refining chief Cynthia Warner–a Vanderbilt grad, I may add–who left BP in 2009 and is now president of Sapphire Energy, a company which makes liquid hydrocarbons from algae. Why?

“I had a slow but growing realization that the industry was maturing, the current fields were falling off in volume more quickly than anticipated, and the feats required to find new oil were becoming more and more heroic.”


“I had an epiphany that if I was going to put so much personal energy into making something happen, it was a lot better to create the key to the future than to nurse along the dying past.” What motivated her above all was her two kids, a feeling she describes in a typically homey metaphor: “What I want to do is leave a legacy for my kids where energy is secure. I don’t want them to have to go out and fight for it — I don’t want to leave them a world where we’re fighting for the last slice of the pie, but one where we’re baking new pies.”

I’m not advocating renewable liquid hydrocarbons–frankly I don’t know enough about it, though I am intrigued at the idea of finding a renewable source of hydrocarbons for all of those plastics we use–I’m just saying: when people who work for the oil companies are leaving because they see it’s a dead-end industry, folks it’s a dead end industry.

Change is happening people, because it just makes economic sense. Climb aboard or be left behind.


Filed under energy future, solar energy, TVA

Choosing Between Poverty & Poison

I’m watching a re-run of CBS 60 Minutes’ piece on toxic e-waste sent to China. This quote from Jim Puckett of watchdog group Basel Action Network resonated:

“It’s a helluva choice between poverty and poison. We should never make people make that choice.”

Damn straight. It’s what we’re talking about when we discuss “environmental racism” and “eco-justice.” It’s also little different from how we are dealing with the toxic coal ash from last year’s Kingston Fossil Plant spill, save by degrees. Indeed, the toxic coal ash from Kingston is now being hauled to a landfill in economically depressed, predominantly African American Perry County, Ala. And it’s causing a rift in that community because we’ve basically asked those folks to make a choice we never should have burdened them with.

These stories always seem to follow the same pattern. On the one hand there is the lure of money and jobs:

A per-ton “host fee” that the landfill operators pay the county will add more than $3 million to the county’s budget of about $4.5 million.

The ash has created more than 30 jobs for local residents in a county where the unemployment rate is 17 percent and a third of all households are below the poverty line.

Money is great but short term profits are not worth long term environmental and health damage, say many in the community:

“I won’t feel comfortable,” wrote W. Compson Sartain, a columnist for The Perry County Herald, “until I see a delegation from E.P.A. and T.V.A. standing on the courthouse square, each member stirring a heaping spoonful of this coal ash into a glass of Tennessee river water this stuff has already fallen into, and gargling with it.”

(Sartain might be interested in United Mountain Defense’s challenge to “clean coal” pitchman/sport fisherman Jeremy Starks, as well.)

And, as always, there is a general lack of education and information about the risks:

Mr. Cureton reasoned that the ash, a byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity, could not be more dangerous than the remnants of the coal that heated his schoolroom growing up, or the ash his father, a farmer, sprinkled at the base of his fruit trees.

But coal ash from a power plant has a higher concentration of toxins because mercury, arsenic and other substances that are filtered out by air pollution controls end up in the ash. Since the spill in Tennessee, the Environmental Protection Agency has promised to issue new regulations for coal ash, potentially classifying it as a hazardous waste.

People like Mr. Cureton, who I have no doubt is sincere in his efforts to do the best for his community, are why issues of environmental racism and eco-justice are so pernicious. But I’d remind these people that there is no such thing as a free lunch. And if taking this coal ash waste were such a great thing, well, we’ve got some landfills here in Tennessee, in counties that could use those jobs and that money. Gotta ask yourself why we’re shipping it out of state to begin with.

Of course, none of this would be an issue if “clean coal” were as “clean” as the coal lobby likes to pretend.

I use the pronoun “we” for a reason in this post. Because this is our mess. We all created it, in our use electricity. Of course, we have few choices if we’re going to live a normal life in this culture. But there are things we can do. We can conserve. We can sign up for programs like TVA’s Green Power Switch. And some of us can help generate alternative fuels by putting solar panels on our roofs.

And maybe in this way we can bring some justice and jobs to our neighbors, instead of dumping our toxic trash on them.

Because we should never ask anyone to choose between poverty and poison so we can prosper and live in comfort.

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Filed under ash spill, clean coal, eco-justice, environment, TVA

Report: Big Problems At TVA Coal Ash Sites

Can’t say we didn’t see this one coming, but at least it’s now official:

Consultants hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority report widespread problems with how the federal utility is running and maintaining its coal ash storage operations.

By the way, TVA is not just a “federal utility,” it is a federally owned corporation. But I digress:

The report by McKenna Long and Aldridge of Atlanta follows the massive spill of more than 5 million cubic yards of coal ash December 22 at the Kingston Fossil Plant about 40 miles west of Knoxville.

The consultants said the “necessary systems, controls and culture were not in place” to properly manage the coal ash sites at TVA’s 11 coal-fired power plants.

The report found TVA had no standard operating or maintenance procedures and failed to conduct annual training for engineers doing inspections. It said there was little or no internal
communication between the four TVA divisions responsible for ash retention.

The firm presented its findings to the TVA board Tuesday.

Hmm, with that in mind, I remind everyone that last February TVA shuffled its executive staff around, moving former coal operations chief Preston Swafford to head TVA’s nuclear operations.

Let’s hope Mr. Swafford manages TVA’s nuclear waste better than he did its coal ash.

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Filed under ash spill, clean coal, Tennessee, TVA

>Green Light

>This morning I received a phone call from Nashville Electric Service informing me that the issues putting NES and TVA at odds have been, if not resolved, at least worked out sufficiently that Generation Partners have been removed from the equation.

In other words, our solar panels are no longer caught up in green tape! We can sign a contract to begin generating green power off our roof and feed it to the electrical grid.

Apparently NES and TVA are giving themselves a 6-month window to hash out the most problematic of their issues, so things still aren’t 100% resolved. And Lightwave Solar was out at the house this morning switching something around which, mid-way through, they learned they would need to switch back when NES changed its mind about something technical. So there are still some problems to be worked out. But the bottom line is, people like us are no longer stuck in the middle of that dispute and can sign our contracts.

This is terrific news and I cannot wait to get my solar panels commissioned! I send out heartfelt thanks to Steve Johnson at Lightwave Solar, Christian and Jamey at The Mighty Deuce, ACK at Post Politics for linking to my first blog post about this, and most of all: NES and TVA for working out a solution!

Thank you everybody! And now: to the green future …. and beyooooooond!!

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Filed under environment, Nashville, NES, solar energy, TVA

Caught Up In Green Tape

It seems I’ve hit a speed bump on the road to a clean energy future. As I’ve read absolutely nothing about this in our local news media, I thought I’d better say something here to let folks know what is happening in this obscure corner of the new energy economy.

As many of you know, we’ve installed a not-insignificant solar array on the roof of our house. Supposedly ours is larger than the Gores, not because our roof is larger but because we don’t live in Belle Meade and I understand they have more stringent zoning rules than we do in Nashville.

Anyway, we’re at the point of commissioning our system, which is where we sign our contract with NES to lock in a price at which the distributor buys our power. We are basically power producers, which I think is really cool.

However, we’ve hit a snag. It seems TVA and Nashville Electric Service are at odds over TVA’s new Generation Partners contract, and it’s left folks like us in the middle.

The good news is that the new contract is much more favorable to Generation Partners: we get a $1,000 signing bonus and receive our base rate plus 12 cents for every kWh we produce, which would add up to nearly 21-cents a kWh. This also means that what we are paid goes up if rates go up, because it’s base-plus. I love this deal!

The new contract goes into effect July 1 but NES has not signed on as of yet. I don’t really understand all of the issues preventing NES and TVA from coming to terms; it’s complicated and seems to relate to reimbursements for things like inspections, maintenance of meters, data lines, etc. None of the issues relate to us as a Generation Partner, it’s more of a headache for the people involved in installations at this point. However, the fact that NES and TVA can’t resolve their differences is keeping us from firing up our system.

I’m not the only one in this holding pattern, either; there are quite a few of us Generation Partners ready to start feeding the grid with clean, green energy but we haven’t signed our contracts yet.

So to deal with us, NES has told us we can sign on under the old Generation Partner contract: this one offers a $500 signing bonus and a flat rate of 15-cents per kWh generated. When (if) NES signs its new contract with TVA, NES will offer us reimbursement under the new rate structure (base + 12-cents), and sign a new 10-year contract with us.

This may sound like a good compromise but it’s not. For one thing, we are out the extra $500 in the signing bonus. And, here’s the real kicker: TVA told me all Generation Partners have to convert to the new contract by Sept. 30 or we are SOL. But Generation Partners have little to do with whether or not we can sign the new contract, that’s between TVA and their distributors! So why penalize us?! I’m ready to sign the new contract now, today, right this second. But I can’t because NES hasn’t climbed on board yet.

So, worst-case scenario, NES could drag its heels and not sign a contract by Sept. 30 and we Generation Partners are left out of TVA’s new rate structure for good. And right now, neither NES nor TVA nor anyone else can tell me when the two parties will come to terms. I could sign the old contract today and tomorrow NES and TVA will have resolved their differences and I’m out $500 for nothing. Or, I could wait, missing out on months of prime summertime solar power generation, only to arrive at a Sept. 30 deadline with nothing to show for it.

I’m not meaning to portray anyone as the bad guy here because both TVA and NES have been really great about answering my questions and trying to be as helpful as they can under the circumstances. But TVA gave its distributors a year to figure this out, and I’ve been told there are still 33 issues that need to be resolved.

Here’s the deal: I’m just a tiny little cog in the great wheel of the new energy economy, but if I could hit a snag this early in the game, it doesn’t bode well for the future. So figure it out, guys and gals.

The governor of Tennessee is seeking major investment in solar energy for the state. We’ve heard talk of Tennessee becoming the “Silicon Valley of Solar.” I just have to say: that ain’t never going to happen as long as major players like TVA and NES can’t come to terms on a Generation Partners contract after an entire year. I mean come on, people: this just looks bad.

Mr. Beale and I are not doing this for the money. We are doing this for Tennessee, for the economy, for the environment. We are doing this so I don’t have another toxic coal ash spill or leveled mountain on my conscience. That said, we don’t wish to be penalized because TVA and NES can’t figure out a contract.

Solar panels are not cheap, and unlike some states, there’s precious little in the way of incentives currently offered to residential producers like us here in Tennessee. We held up our end, investing an enormous chunk of our own money to begin generating clean solar power. Now I expect my “partners” to hold up their end and hammer out a freaking contract already.

So get down to it, folks. Time’s a wasting.

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Filed under environment, NES, solar energy, Tennessee, TVA