SACE analyzed how much consumers spend on gas and diesel and how much of that transportation fuel spending remains in a given Southeast state and how much leaves. The analysis then looked at what happens if all on-road gas and diesel-powered cars, trucks, and buses are replaced with vehicles that drive entirely on electricity.
Southeast consumers spend approximately $94 billion on gas and diesel fuels annually. And because the region has nearly no oil production or refining operations, only about one-third of that amount — approximately $30 billion — is retained in our region’s economy, and the rest leaves to pay for the imported fuels. That adds up to $64 billion leaking out of our region’s economy every year.
ELECTRIFYING TRANSPORTATION COULD PATCH THE LEAK
As light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicle electrification accelerates, more efficient vehicles and cheaper in-state-generated electricity allow consumers to spend less to drive the same number of miles. If all of the region’s vehicle miles traveled were electric today, Southeast consumers would spend approximately $52 billion on electricity, reducing consumer transportation fuel spending by $42 billionannually.
EXTRA SPENDING KEPT IN THE SOUTHEAST BY ELECTRIFYING TRANSPORTATION
Additionally, more than two-thirds of those $52 billion dollars we would spend on electricity for transportation — approximately $35 billion — would stay in the region, vs. the $30 billion we retain under the current system that relies heavily on gas and diesel. This means that we could keep an additional $5 billionannually recirculating through and supporting local economies if we switched to a fully electric transportation system.
By saving consumers $42 billion in fuel spending and keeping an extra $5 billion in-region, electrifying transportation in the Southeast would result in $47 billion in transportation fuel spending retained annually.
Why it matters: Economic impacts should be considered in policy and regulatory actions
Our goal in conducting this analysis is to broaden policymakers,’ utility regulators,’ and industry stakeholders’ views of transportation electrification costs and benefits, stimulate discussion and spur additional research.
It is increasingly understood that electrifying America’s car, truck, and bus fleets will require federal, state government, utility, and private investment. And a lot of it. That is evidenced by the billions of dollars earmarked in the federal infrastructure bill; the $93 million of EV-related Volkswagen Settlement funds spent to date by Southeast states; the over $189 million invested and proposed by Southeast utilities; and the more than $30 billion of auto industry investment in passenger EVs alone.
The Southeast clearly has a lot to gain by distancing itself from imported gas and diesel and embracing locally-generated electricity to power transportation. Such an embrace will result in even greater payback over time as the region, which basks in sunshine, ramps up utility-scale and distributed solar generation, allowing even more dollars to be retained and invested in local economies and local jobs. As those retained dollars recirculate through local economies, they will create a multiplying economic impact.
And then there are the jobs. Collectively, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee make up 18 percent of the nation’s population.
These states have secured 18 percent (7,785) of EV jobs, and an outsized 37 percent ($11.2 billion) of national EV investment.
And it’s important to remember that beyond direct EV jobs are all the supply chain jobs, including mineral mining, battery production, charging infrastructure manufacturing and installation, and industry research and development, which are all present in the region and prepared to grow.
State policymakers and utility regulators need to understand what is at stake. We need a strong EV market to retain billions of dollars in transportation fuel spending and support continued regional EV industry job growth. To foster a strong EV market, we need favorable policies and regulatory reforms.
Utilities and regulators are beginning to propose and approve more ambitious electric transportation investments, but the Southeast currently represents just over 4 percent of utility EV investment nationwide. Utilities have the capacity to spur EV charger deployment, support school, and transit bus electrification, and educate consumers at scale. And doing so is in the utilities and ratepayers’ best interests: EVs will create new electricity demand, which in turn will increase utility revenue, and at the same time put downward pressure on utility rates. Utilities are also positioned to ensure EV investments are equitable and reach traditionally marginalized and underserved communities.
The Southeast transportation electrification equation is becoming clearer: favorable policies + regulatory reforms = $47 billion in annual retained transportation fuel dollars and thousands of jobs. Policymakers, regulators, and industry stakeholders need to continue unpacking the costs and benefits. Clearly, there are significant financial investments needed to electrify the movement of people, goods, and services. But the economic returns to be gained are significant and favorable.
Electrify the South is a Southern Alliance for Clean Energy program that leverages research, advocacy, and outreach to promote renewable energy and accelerate the equitable transition to electric transportation throughout the Southeast. Visit ElectrifytheSouth.org to learn more and connect with us.
The Kingston Fossil Plant in Kingston, Tennessee is shown in this file image from the Tennessee Valley Authority.
TVA denies lobbying or cronyism, cites need for "expertise and analysis"
Editor's Note: This report is a collaboration between Hellbender Press and Hard Knox Wire.
A coalition of environmental groups who joined forces to stop the Tennessee Valley Authority from using ratepayer money to fund trade groups who lobby against the Clean Air Act and other environmental protections filed a federal lawsuit against the utility.
The environmentalists claim the practice potentially raises conflicts of interest and throws into doubt TVA’s willingness to comply with clean air laws even as the utility retires its coal plants in order to transition to a mix of fossil gas and nuclear power.
TVA has invested millions of dollars in measurable air quality improvements as it prepares to divest from coal as a main electricity source. Nevertheless, TVA paid membership dues to interest groups such as Edison Electric Institute (which is headquartered five blocks from the U.S. Capitol) and Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition, according to the plaintiff’s suit.
"TVA has not been officially served with the lawsuit, so it would be inappropriate to comment on its specifics," TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said early Thursday.
“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 CBD’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 contends it merely wants to get input from multiple stakeholders with multiple perspectives.
"As a federal agency, TVA is prohibited from participating in lobbying activities, and the TVA Board has directed that any dues, membership fees, or financial contributions paid to external organizations not be used for purposes inconsistent with TVA’s statutory mission or legal obligations.
"Like other major utilities, TVA’s membership in a diverse array of external organizations allows TVA access to specialized expertise and analysis that directly benefits all of our customers at a cost significantly lower than if TVA were to undertake such work alone."
Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said TVA has a special responsibility to support environmental protections.
“TVA is unique in the power industry in that environmental stewardship and economic development are codified in the agency’s founding mission,” she said. “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.”
Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of plaintiff Energy Alabama, said: “TVA has forced its customers to make political speech by taking money from their utility bills and using it for anti-clean energy advocacy. 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.”
The path to the lawsuit began when the groups used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that TVA paid $200,000 in 2018 to the Utility Water Act Group, which lobbies against parts of the Clean Water Act. They also learned the utility was paying $500,000 a year to join the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents all private, investor-owned utility companies in the country.
Alex Pulsipher holds a sign demanding that TVA transition to 100 percent renewable energy at a rally Wednesday in Market Square in Knoxville. Courtesy Amy Rawe/Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Varied environmental groups offer unified plea for clean energy, coal ash management and accountability from TVA
It was people power generating energy at Market Square in downtown Knoxville on Wednesday.
A coalition of civic and environmental groups and their representatives met at the bottom of the two Tennessee Valley Authority towers urging the public utility to reopen meetings to public comment; swear off all fossil fuels by 2030; and carefully tend to the needs of those affected by coal ash and devise a plan to contain it for the safety of current and future generations.
The event was punctuated by a march around the Market Square block where some 60 sign-waving and chanting marchers received supportive horn honks from motorists and encouragement from multitudes of outdoor diners — some of whom were handed information sheets and may have just been introduced to the real concept and causes of climate change.
The last portion of the event featured coal-ash workers, a widow, orphan and wife sharing the pain associated with cleanup of the Kingston coal ash spill, which sent a wicked stew of slurry through areas adjacent to that coal plant in December 2008. Dozens of workers laboring under a contractor for TVA eventually developed serious illnesses and died.
Other coal-ash issues faced by TVA include recent reports that a playground and sports field adjacent to its Bull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton, Tennessee were contaminated with potentially deadly byproducts of coal ash mounded for storage nearby.
Despite a decades-long effort to reduce local plant production, TVA is still a notable contributor to fossil-fuel emissions, ranging from its coal plants (which, including Bull Run, are up for retirement soon) to its natural gas-fired plants. Attendees at Wednesday’s rally called for a complete retirement of TVA carbon emissions and a transition to the use of purely renewable electricity.
TVA likely plans to replace the bulk of its power generated from coal-fired plants with natural-gas derived electricity.
Attendees raise concerns about coal ash; call for more clean energy, transparency and public engagement from TVA
Nearly 100 people from Tennessee and other states served by the Tennessee Valley Authority joined a virtual People’s TVA Hearing. The hearing on Aug. 4 was organized by the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement (TVEDM). It included a public comment session and multiple breakout sessions for attendees to discuss specific issues facing TVA and the Tennessee Valley.
TVA has not held any public listening sessions in a year and a half because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and attendees called on TVA to resume such sessions as soon as possible when the pandemic ebbs.
“TVA talks a good game about being public power but they are simply not walking the walk,” said Barbara Mott of Knoxville. “Hiding from the people is not the answer.”
Hearing attendees highlighted a number of urgent issues facing TVA during their public comments and breakout discussions, including coal ash pollution, moving to clean energy, issues facing TVA’s workers, and high energy-cost burdens.
Powell resident Julie Bledsoe, whose husband Ron worked to clean up the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal slurry spill and was later diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said coal ash is “extremely toxic” and, because TVA’s contractor did not protect coal ash cleanup workers, “We've been to quite a few funerals due to that. A lot of families have lost their loved ones, and many are sick and suffering.”
Many of the attendees and public commenters also called for TVA to transition quickly to clean energy. "We believe TVA can lead the country by achieving 100 percent clean electricity by 2030, and should not be investing in new fossil gas at a time when the climate crisis demands we move away from polluting fossil fuels. If TVA were to actually allow the public to make their voices heard, they'd likely hear that same thing from folks all over the Valley,” said Brady Watson, an organizer with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Advocates with the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement are soliciting written and video comment submissions, as well as planning a rally outside TVA’s Knoxville headquarters on Aug. 18 (the date of TVA’s next board meeting) to highlight the need for the return of public listening sessions.
Convened in 2019, the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement is a collaborative of organizations, community groups and citizens working to bring democracy to the Tennessee Valley Authority energy system and transform it from the bottom up.
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy offers detailed climate action items for fossil-based utilities
A new SACE report shows not only that is it possible for the four largest utilities in the Southeast to achieve 100 percent clean electricity, but there are several pathways to get there. A variety of different energy technologies and programs can be deployed to reach this goal.
To help us understand what 100 percent clean electricity would look like here in the Southeast, SACE staff developed pathways to meet a CES policy for our region’s four largest utility companies: TVA, Southern Company, NextEra (which owns Florida Power & Light and Gulf Power), and Duke Energy.
On Wednesday, June 16, and Thursday, June 17, SACE’s policy staff will host webinars focusing on pathways to 100 percent clean electricity for each of the utilities examined in the report: Duke Energy, NextEra, TVA, and Southern Company, including:
-What a federal Clean Electricity Standard is and how it could be key to kickstarting aggressive decarbonization;
-Multiple pathways with a different power generation mix for each utility to reach net-zero carbon emissions;
-How distributed resources like rooftop solar and energy efficiency are key to decarbonizing; and
-Descriptions of the method used to develop and test each pathway to clean electricity.
Register for one or more of the following webinars Wednesday, June 16, and Thursday, June 17:
The primary pathway is focused on distributed energy resources (DERs). We found that with significant and sustained investments in DERs, like energy efficiency and rooftop solar, these utilities can achieve a customer-oriented pathway to clean electricity. In fact, these two resources, energy efficiency and rooftop solar, could meet approximately one-third of all electricity needs for these utilities by 2035. In addition to these distributed resources, these successful pathways will also include wind power, large-scale solar, and energy storage.
We found that when utilities have the ability to share resources to meet peak needs and reserve margins, fewer resources are needed overall. In most parts of the country, utilities already have the ability to do this through competitive electricity markets, but not in the Southeast. Having one such market that spans across the Southeast would help the region as a whole achieve 100 percent clean electricity.
Our analysis only looked at existing technologies. While it is good to know that today’s technologies can play a critical role in the pathway to 100 percent clean electricity, and so we must ramp up these technologies immediately, it is also true that investments in technology innovation are important to make it easier to get there. We still need to invest in research and development that can lead to improvements of existing clean electricity technologies and commercialization of new clean electricity technologies. This should not be a question of either deployment or research, both are needed.
A coalition of environmental groups alleges the Tennessee Valley Authority provided millions of dollars in dues to a trade group resistant to air-pollution control measures.
TVA officials say the utility's membership in the Utility Air Regulatory Group was a way to help it navigate the complexities of federal pollution regulations, but documents obtained by the clean-air coalition via a Freedom of Information Act request show the now-disbanded trade group spent $3.5 million on legal fees between 2015 and July 2018. TVA CEO Jeff Lyash told Congress in 2019 the utility had paid UARG $7.3 million since 2001.
The committee that approved the legal expenses was co-chaired at the time by a senior TVA manager, and in lawsuits, "the UARG frequently argued against tighter air pollution and climate regulations," according to the AP.
The Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy was among the environmental groups calling for a review of TVA's relationship with the UARG and other trade groups.
(SACE executive director Stephen Smith is a member of the board of Foundation for Global Sustainability.Hellbender Press is a self-supporting project of FGS).
“Our intelligence and flexibility as a society will be tested as the financial and industrial giants all figure out what they’re going to do.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority intends to phase out its aging fleet of coal plants by 2035, potentially replacing the age-old carbon-rich power source with increased use of natural gas and refreshed, concentrated supplies of nuclear energy as the vast utility moves to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
The plan emerged Wednesday, about a month after the Biden administration called on the U.S. power sector to eliminate pollutants linked to climate change by 2035.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is the largest public provider of electricity in the United States. It provides wholesale power to every major municipal provider in Tennessee, as well as other metropolitan areas and smaller utility districts and cooperatives within its seven-state service area.
Coal represents 14 percent of TVA’s energy portfolio. Its other main fuel sources are nuclear (41 percent) and fossil gas (27 percent). Hydropower accounts for 13 percent of its generation, with solar, wind and efficiency programs making up only 5 percent of its current power portfolio, according to the Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The consequential plan was introduced almost off-handedly on Wednesday by TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash, who appeared with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin during a live online international energy discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council, a bipartisan global think tank.
The TVA plan as announced during the webinar was first reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and then relayed locally on Friday by Knoxville Compass. The Lyash and Manchin quotes and descriptions below were derived from the recorded seminar or a TVA transcript of the event passed to Hellbender Press by Compass.
Two TVA spokesmen didn’t respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Last year, Knoxville Utilities Board committed to supplying 20 percent of its electricity through solar generation by 2023, through Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Invest program. By 2023, KUB will provide 502 megawatts annually of new-to-the-grid solar power to its customers. This represents the equivalent of enough energy to power 83,000 homes. The $1.63 million cost will be paid by a credit provided by TVA as part of its 20-year partnership agreement with KUB.
The announcement was celebrated by solar energy advocates, including the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association, but some environmental watchdogs maintain there are issues with the contracts that local power companies had to enter into with TVA to participate in Green Invest.
For the past few years, TVA sought 20-year rolling contracts with local power companies. KUB’s previous contract with TVA was for five years. In August 2019, TVA presented the Knoxville Utilities Board with a 20-year contract that would provide a credit of 3.1 percent on wholesale base rates and flexibility to allow up to 5 percent of KUB power to come from local sources.
Stephen Smith, who holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Tennessee, has served as the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) since 1993. Founded in 1985, SACE promotes responsible energy choices in the Southeast.
(Smith is on the board of directors of the Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press is an independent project of FGS).
“Any time solar is being built, that’s a positive thing,” Smith said. But, he added, “It’s important to put it into context. What has [KUB] given up by entering into what we consider a Draconian contract?”