published Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

TVA in line with Obama's climate plans, official says

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    Tennessee Valley Authority headquarters and TVA logo
    Photo by Miranda Harple

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TVA already is ahead of environmental regulations, an executive with the federal utility said Tuesday, and he doesn't expect many curveballs with new rules to curtail carbon emissions announced Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to draft standards limiting the amount of carbon emissions companies and power plants can produce -- among other steps that would increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy for federal agencies.

"I believe the decisions we've made will keep us in line with [Obama's announcement]. ... Certainly with TVA's emissions, we've reduced those by 23 percent since 2005 to date," said John Myers, director of environmental policy and regulatory affairs.

That reduction exceeds Obama's goal of cutting carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

It's too early to say exactly how the announced standards will affect TVA, but the utility is planning to still pull 30 percent of its power generation from coal-burning plants.

If new rules ultimately mean TVA has to further limit coal plant power production, the agency will adapt, Myers said.

"You can't transition the fleet overnight, but certainly the direction TVA has been going, it aligns with the president's plans," Myers said.

Obama was supportive of nuclear power and natural gas -- as a transition fuel -- and those are two important parts of TVA's future, Myers said.

TVA is finishing a second reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., and is developing plans for possibly finishing the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Alabama or building small modular reactors in Oak Ridge.

And as part of an overall coal reduction campaign, coal-burning units at John Sevier Fossil Plant have been idled or retired, and an 800 megawatt natural gas plant has been built on the site.

As far as Obama's push for more renewable energy sources, Myers said TVA has been taking those steps as well.

He said TVA's solar power programs have been successful, and they will increase with more demand.

But representatives from the solar industry say demand is there -- TVA is just not making enough use of it.

Gil Hough, president of Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association, said Tuesday before Obama's speech that the solar industry is ready and waiting on government and utilities to make capacity available.

"A lack of solutions is not a problem. The technology is available," he said.

Midsized business incentives offered by TVA for installing solar power equipment are closed, and when 2.5 megawatts of additional capacity are opened Aug. 1, they will be filled in a day, according to the association.

Hough says given Obama's effort to scrap coal and increase renewable energy, TVA has a great opportunity.

"I do think there is an opportunity to be a model. I think that is part of TVA's mission and the solar industry is eager to play to role, Hough said.

Myers said solar incentives for residents are still available, but TVA can only offer so much.

"We are certainly trying to supply support, but there have to be caps on our level of support," Myers said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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