Clean air activists praise TVA’s coal decision; warn it’s not enough to meet climate goals

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widows creek

SACE: TVA must also wean itself off natural gas and nuclear reliance

As previously reported by Hellbender Press, Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down its five remaining coal plants by 2050 and pursue a carbon-neutral future.

TVA board members spoke favorably of the decision at its regular meeting on Thursday.

"TVA CEO Jeff Lyash shared a vision of how TVA will continue to support the Valley for years to come with a commitment to sustainability. The board also endorsed a strategic focus on decarbonization and a commitment to providing a reliable, low-cost energy supply as TVA moves into the future," according to a statement released Thursday by TVA.

"TVA leadership issued a Strategic Intent and Guiding Principles document to provide direction for developing business strategies that provide reliable, resilient, low-cost and clean energy to the region. View the Executive Summary of the document.

"TVA’s new Carbon Report outlines TVA’s commitment and path to reduce carbon in the coming years without compromising the reliability and low rates the Valley has come to expect. The report outlines TVA’s leadership today in carbon reduction, our plan to achieve 70 percent reduction by 2030, our path to 80 percent reduction by 2035 and our aspiration to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050."

Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy generally lauded TVA’s sustainability mission, but released the following detailed response Thursday afternoon:

"The agency’s intentions fall far short of the Biden Administration’s goal of decarbonizing the nation’s electric grid by 2035, a timeframe recommended by scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

"During an interview on WBIR’s “Inside Tennessee,” aired May 2, Lyash stated the agency aspires to be net-zero carbon by 2050, with an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035. Lyash’s statements follow his comments during a virtual forum hosted on April 28 by the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center that TVA intends to retire five coal-fired fossil plants still in operation by 2035. While a step in the right direction, being coal-free is not equivalent to being carbon-free. 

"The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s latest report shows TVA plans to build 1,500 MW of fossil gas capacity to be online by 2023. Intentions to retire the five remaining active coal plants with an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 and aspirations for net-zero carbon by 2050 are not only out of step with the Biden Administration, but also potentially improbable if the utility plans to continue to build out fossil gas plants.

"In fact, SACE’s recent analysis shows that according to TVA’s latest resource plans and announced projects, and taking into account TVA’s history and projected rate of decarbonization, TVA is not on track to fully decarbonize by 2050. Without announcing formal resource plans that greatly increase utilization of clean energy like solar, energy efficiency, and battery storage that can be analyzed through an integrated resource planning (IRP) process, there is no guarantee TVA will reach net-zero emissions even by 2050.

"As the nation’s largest public power utility and as an extension of the Biden Administration, TVA has the ability and resources to lead by example and demonstrate the path to zero carbon by the Administration’s goal of 2035, not fifteen years later. Better yet, SACE has called on TVA to play a leading role by formally setting a target to be a carbon-free power system by 2030, ahead of the Administration’s 2035 goal," according to SACE. 

"Utility sector decarbonization is achievable through a federal Clean Electricity Standard with robust clean energy investments and justice-centered policies, according to a report by Evergreen Collaborative, “A Roadmap to 100% Clean Electricity by 2035.”

"TVA needs to immediately initiate and update its integrated resource plan (IRP) and begin the proper procedures to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to accelerate 100 percent decarbonization of their grid by 2035 at the latest — not partially at 80 percent by 2035 or 100 percent by 2050.

Stephen Smith, the executive director of SACE, said in the release: “As an extension of the Administration, TVA executive staff and board leadership should embrace policies and goals in line with the Biden Administration to achieve a low-cost, highly reliable, carbon-free electricity grid by 2035. SACE believes that TVA could lead by example and reach the carbon-free goal by 2030 if they take the necessary action now."

"The current TVA CEO’s public statements are out of step with the Biden Administration’s goals. With accountable leadership, collaborative planning, and commitment, TVA has the opportunity to once again embrace the mission to be a “utility yardstick” of innovative environmental stewardship and job creation," Smith said.

(Smith also serves on the board of the Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press is a self-supporting project of FGS).



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