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TVA: An “industry leader in the transition to cleaner energy?”

There’s been some talk of privatizing the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority, though it comes in the form of President Obama’s 2014 budget request and then only as a suggestion to look at TVA’s overall situation. Southern politicians love TVA on a bipartisan basis, so such efforts rarely move far. As always, we’ll see.

But the notion has led to some stories – here’s one – about a University of Tennessee study that concludes TVA would have to be sold to several prospective buyers to avoid a monopoly situation. You can read the study to see the answer to the study’s title, “Should the Federal Government Sell TVA?”

Energy Biz has an interesting Q&A up with TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson:

ENERGYBIZ: How important will nuclear power be to TVA in coming years?

Johnson: By 2023, our generation will be about 35 percent nuclear, 30 to 35 percent coal, 20 percent gas, and then the rest hydro and renewables.

Hydro power is probably the key when it comes to TVA, since its creation in 1935 led to the large federal role in hydro (TVA has 29 hydro facilities) that it does not have in other electricity generators. The invisible hand bypasses that part of the energy portfolio. Not much to say about that – except that it makes some sense because of hydro’s interaction with rivers and dams.

But back to nuclear. Aside from the new reactors in Georgia (at Vogtle) and South Carolina (Summer), TVA is finishing the long halted Watts Bar 2 project. Those will be the five reactors built in the U.S. in the teens.

ENERGYBIZ: You are also testing development of small modular reactors.

Johnson: Part of our mission by law is innovation in energy technology.  So the small modular reactor to us is nuclear innovation and technology. We are in a consortium or partnership with Babcock & Wilcox called mPower, and we have qualified with the DOE for funding. It is a cost-sharing arrangement.  We are the first people out of the box on this, closely aligned with the DOE and industry to see how this concept works.

Johnson admits that there are aspects of small reactors that remain unknown for now – such as their security needs versus full-sized reactors – but I like that he attaches the project to fulfilling TVA’s mission. It does do that and gives small reactors a decided boost.

Interestingly, The Knoxville News-Sentinel links these moves to President Barack Obama’s climate change speech last week, at least in passing.

Nuclear power — which does not release carbon into the atmosphere — is part of the mix as well. TVA is adding a reactor to its Watts Bar plant and is seeking regulatory approval for a modular reactor plant to be built in Oak Ridge.

And:

TVA already is upgrading pollution controls on its [coal-fired] power plants. The federal utility plans to spend about $1 billion on controls at its Gallatin Fossil Plant, which should reduce emissions by 90 percent. TVA also plans to retire 18 units at its 11 coal-fired power plants by 2018.

The utility is using more natural gas, too. There are 106 natural gas units at 13 sites spread across TVA’s service area.

This gives Johnson’s 2035 numbers more context.

The gist of the editorial is that energy providers need to change priorities to meet the president’s goals and that TVA is ahead of the games.

The transformation to a cleaner power industry will take time and will challenge utilities to reduce emissions while keeping rates low. We are confident they are up to the task. TVA already is changing, and is positioning itself to be an industry leader in the transition to cleaner energy.

Sounds good to me. Utilities can have pretty fractious relationships with localities, but that’s not the case here.

Comments

SteveK9 said…
Ontario isn't 'upgrading pollution controls on its [coal-fired] power plants', they are closing them. Refurbishing plants and planning new ones. The air quality has seen a noticeable improvement. Here is an ad by Bruce Power: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWaWUVlRtCU&feature=player_embedded
The TVA needs to set a good example for other utilities by selling all of its fossil fuel power plants.

The TVA could then use the revenue from those sales to finance the building of small nuclear power plants and carbon neutral methanol electric power plants.

The methanol power plants would initially be fueled with renewable methanol produced from urban and rural biowaste.

But in the long run, nuclear power plants dedicated to producing methanol from the synthesis of nuclear produced hydrogen and CO2 extracted from air would produce most of the methanol for peak-load power production.

Marcel F. Williams
Anonymous said…
TVA can't sell its coal plants to build nuclear because even if they sold every coal unit they own it still wouldn't be enough to pay for a single new nuclear plant. Nobody is going to spend a lot of money to buy a bunch of 40-60 year old coal units most of which will have to be shut down soon if Obama's energy policy becomes law.

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