Monday, August 23, 2010

The Vision of TVA

TVA Dam Even the most solid free marketeer has to have a soft spot for the Tennessee Valley Authority, founded in 1935 by the Federal Government to electrify and perform other tasks in the region.

And what a region! The Tennessee valley didn’t get hit by a double whammy in the great depression but by multiple whammies all at once. Not only had farmland become depleted and the timberlands denuded but the area was riven by malaria (about 30 percent of the population). Economically, the area was on par with the poorest of countries, with annual income as low as $100.

TVA was set up to deal with all of this – as well as provide electricity – and once officials got local leaders on their side – the people there did not trust bureaucrats - genuinely transformative work took place. TVA worked with farmers to develop different planting and crop rotation methods, developed fertilizers specific to the area, replanted forests, drained fetid ponds – mitigating the malaria – and electrified the region.

It’s a rich beginning and provided a valuable legacy for TVA, which has carried on as a virtually unique entity both in the electricity sphere and in the government. (Efforts to create more valley authorities did not get through Congress.)

So this was notably interesting:

The government-owned corporation's board of directors has approved a renewed vision that TVA says will enable it to become one of the USA's leading providers of low-cost cleaner energy by 2020.

And how does it plan to do that?

"TVA's vision to lead our nation toward a cleaner energy future means relying more on nuclear power," CEO Tom Kilgore told board members. "Much of our stakeholder input and other assessments point toward a greater reliance on nuclear power and energy efficiency and less reliance on coal," he said.

TVA operates some nuclear plants now and some of them include uncompleted reactors – stopped largely due to lack of electricity demand. TVA is now bringing them to completion.

With electricity demand now expected to rise, TVA resumed work on Watts Bar 2 in 2007. The fiscal 2011 budget sets aside $635 million for construction work at the Tennessee plant, which is due to come online in 2013.

The budget also includes $248 million for work at the Bellefonte site in Alabama, where TVA has been considering whether to complete one of the two partially built units or build a new reactor.

There’s more at the link. I have to rate this one an extremely cheering story for a Monday.

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German chancellor Angela Merkel faces intense pressure not to tax the fuel rods used by nuclear plants. Though the government has never precisely said so, this seems an attempt to yank money out of the plants because they could not be taxed on carbon emissions – since they don’t produce any. And that made it seem like a racket, imposing a tax because nuclear energy fulfills a policy goal and public good. Aside from revenue, no public good comes from the tax.

So what’s a chancellor to do?

Just back from her summer vacation, Mrs. Merkel is visiting wind, coal, solar and nuclear energy facilities in the next few days as part of her “energy trip.”

Well, that sounds even handed.

It is a strategy aimed at persuading the public that she is not beholden to the nuclear lobby, nor for that matter any other energy lobby, according to Steffen Seibert, the government spokesman.

Oh! Well, there’s the spin. And the government is talking pretty tough.

“The four big energy companies are acting like the four occupying powers,” Ms. Künast said, referring to France, Britain, Russia and the United States, which occupied Germany after 1945. She said the nuclear companies “have divided up the country into four zones and are trying to push through their interests.”

This is Renate Künast, a parliamentary leader of the Green Party. All I can say is that in a Democratic country, “pushing through their interests,” is what any constituency – including plant owners – has a right to do. They may not succeed, but they have some mighty good arguments to make. It’s actually Ms. Künast who does not sound very Democratic.

Here’s what Merkel said on a visit to a wind farm.

Nuclear technology remains a crucial part of Germany's energy strategy, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday…

That sounds good.

She reiterated that while her government is actively promoting renewable energy sources, it regards nuclear energy as a precious carbon dioxide neutral "bridge technology."

Sigh! Well, at least it’s precious.

This has been a fascinating story – a different kind of industry/government fight than one sees in the United States – and although I know how I’d like it to turn out, I’m enjoying it in any event as an ongoing narrative, outcome unknown.

One of the Dams erected along the Tennessee River by TVA.

1 comment:

Marcel F. Williams said...

I love the TVA! I just wish the TVA would sell all of their fossil fuel power facilities to regional utilities so that they could invest even more money into building more nuclear power plants.