Clean Line: A TVA Failure of Clean Energy and Environmental Leadership

It has become increasingly clear that the Tennessee Valley Authority is taking a hostile position towards renewable energy. TVA’s recent decision to ignore, or flat out reject, renewable energy from the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project is the latest in a string of anti-renewable energy positions taken by the nation’s largest public utility. TVA is woefully behind peer utilities in procuring significant solar energy resources (Duke Energy North Carolina, Georgia Power, FPL in Florida to name just a few). Newly proposed 2018 solar rate structures would undermine distributed energy resources by taking the buy back rate below retail for TVA’s customer owned solar systems, effectively making TVA an “anti net-metering utility.” In 2016, TVA quietly let a 300 megawatt wind farm power purchase agreement lapse – a nearly 20% drop in renewable energy purchases. These are all examples of TVA’s movement away from clean, renewable energy.

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project was the largest renewable energy project proposed for the Southeast. The project would have delivered 3,500 megawatts of exceptionally low-cost, high capacity factor wind energy from the Oklahoma panhandle to a converter station in TVA territory.

Naysayers will claim the Plains and Eastern Clean Line just wasn’t cheap enough. TVA could have netted carbon-free energy for about two cents per kilowatt hour ($0.02/kWh) –  a locked-in price, lower than the fuel prices of natural gas.

If TVA had participated, the project could have sent low cost wind power to other utilities in the region, including the Carolinas, Georgia and even Florida. The Plains and Eastern Clean Line would have been the crown jewel for renewable energy projects in the Southeast, this can not be overstated. It would have also been a major United States infrastructure project using High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines to move wind from the Plains to Eastern load centers, demonstrating the value of HVDC technology and diversifying the Southeast’s grid (both resources and connectivity) with systems further to the West.

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project went through a multi-year, rigorous, environmental impact statement process with flying colors. However, large utility power purchase agreements were necessary to financially anchor such a project. After nearly eight years of development, with all federal permits secured, Clean Line still needed TVA to sign up and agree to buy a portion – 500-1,000 MWs of wind power. TVA’s President Bill Johnson strung the Clean Line partners along for several years, never really negotiating in good faith. Johnson claims to be “agnostic” on energy sources, but his track record at Progress Energy and now at TVA is one of building large natural gas projects and supporting troubled nuclear projects; he does not understand renewable technologies, thinks they are a threat to the traditional utility business model, and brings this narrow thinking to his leadership position at TVA.

Corporations and electric companies are clamoring for low-cost wind power. In 2016, major corporations, including Kellogg’s, General Motors, Facebook, Honda, Westlake Chemical, IKEA, Unilever and others, wrote to the TVA encouraging wind power purchases. Businesses like these and members of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry are eager for power price stability, and because wind power has zero fuel cost, there is zero price volatility. TVA has flat out ignored those companies, at the risk of halting economic development in the region.

TVA’s hostility towards renewable energy puts its ratepayers, and the region, at risk of higher costs for dirty energy and keeps TVA dependent on fossil fuels like gas and coal. The failure to execute on such a important project shows that current TVA leadership under Bill Johnson is more interested in top down, antiquated, monopolistic thinking instead of TVA being an innovative leader bringing new technologies like HVDC, high-capacity wind and clean solar on to the power grid and into our region. Crowing about bringing a forty year old nuclear plant online that was built with 1970s technology, and overbuilding natural gas units that replace aged coal plants while failing to address the serious coal ash issues in the TVA region is not environmentally responsible leadership. Johnson’s lack of respect and concern for the region’s natural resources will be a black mark on his leadership record.

SACE will be drawing attention to this new renewable energy hostility of TVA current leadership.  When it comes to clean energy and environmental protection, TVA should lead or get out of the way.

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Pingback by Clean Line: A TVA Failure of Clean Energy and Environmental Leadership | Hagen Ruff of Chava Wind on January 8, 2018 4:41 pm

The TVA board and Bill Johnson concluded the same thing the utilities in the Carolinas, Georgia, and even Florida concluded. They all decided the electricity would not be cheap. Why condemn the TVA for making the same decision as the utilities in those states? If the proposed transmission line project was so great, why aren’t the utilities in those states screaming about the demise of Clean Line?

Now, let’s look at that “rigorous” environmental impact study. In my particular area in Arkansas, the DOE admitted there would be adverse environmental impact but decided to approve the project anyway. The DOE said it would approve the project because it suited the DOE’s purpose. That sounds to me like the environmental impact study was a sham, just a bureaucratic obstacle to be maneuvered around.

The Clean Line grand plan,building huge extension cords from the Plains to the East coast, was a really stupid idea. Like all stupid ideas that lose government support, it could not stand the test of the market place.

Comment by Joel Dyer on January 8, 2018 11:42 pm

[…] ¶ “Clean Line: A TVA Failure of Clean Energy and Environmental Leadership” • It has become increasingly clear that the Tennessee Valley Authority is taking a hostile position towards renewable energy. TVA is woefully behind peer utilities in the US Southeast in procuring significant resources of both solar and wind energy resources. [Clean Energy News] […]

Pingback by January 9 Energy News | geoharvey on January 9, 2018 7:05 am

TVA made a resonable, rational decision. They did not cower to pressure to do something for political capital. They protected the rate payers. They do use renewables. They are choosy about how they add renewable to their mix as they should be. They are NOT anti-renewable. And, demand for electric has flatlined!!! Not the time to donsomething as risky as Clean Line.

Comment by Cynthia on January 9, 2018 11:27 am

Cynthia, TVA was begging its customers to reduce power demand during the cold snap – when wind power would have been providing significant, low cost energy.

Comment by Simon Mahan on January 9, 2018 12:00 pm

Joel, where in the EIS were there “adverse environmental impacts” outlined? The EIS showed that the project was a net positive and whatever impact there would have been, could have been significantly mitigated.

There isn’t a free market in TVA territory – TVA (a federal government power entity) makes decisions, and its ratepayers have to live with the consequences. Tennessee’s rates are higher than Oklahoma’s – where there is significant wind energy build out. TVA’s own analysis found that buying wind power would have been low cost.

Comment by Simon Mahan on January 9, 2018 12:08 pm

[…] Clean Line: A TVA Failure of Clean Energy and Environmental Leadership  Clean Energy News (blog) […]

Pingback by Effort to build electricity super highway to new markets is sidetracked for now | Hagen Ruff of Chava Wind on January 9, 2018 12:11 pm

Oh Simon, remember when you argued, on a forum you controlled, that the electricity on Clean Line’s transmission lines would be 100% wind? You were asked how many square miles of turbines it would take, assuming a very generous average capacity factor of 40%, to supply 4,000 MW of electricity (just one of the CL projects)? In essence, how much land would it take to install 10,000 MW of nameplate capacity?

Your response? You deleted the question.

The answer? Using NRELs estimate of about 10 MW nameplate capacity per square mile, not even considering the land needed for transmission or figuring for the amount of energy lost during conversion and transmission:

An area the size of Rhode Island, assuming there was not a single obstacle such as a town, highway, lake, river, unwilling property owner, etc. in the entire state that would prevent construction.

Again, that’s for just one of the projects. Good luck mitigating those environmental impacts. But hey, when a record cold snap hits the southeast once every decade or so, the TVA wouldn’t have to ask folks to reduce power demand. How silly.

Comment by Matthew on January 9, 2018 1:26 pm

Hey Matthew, I do remember our brief discussion a few years ago. And your comment was deleted after you called me and asked me to personally remove it. I wrote a couple blogs about how much land use would be required – the fact is, renewables use less land than fossil fuels.

“Consider this: the Department of Energy (DOE) recently released its Wind Vision Report, which outlines a goal of 20% wind energy by 2030 for this country, and 35% wind energy by 2050. Under those scenarios, the DOE estimates the amount of land used by wind turbines would ”require approximately 2,000 [square kilometers] (500,000 acres) by 2030, and 3,200 [square kilometers] (790,000 acres) by 2050.” So for roughly 1/10th the land area used by oil and gas (3,200 square kilometers), America could obtain 30% of its electricity from land-based wind power (the other roughly 5% the Wind Vision Report evaluated came from offshore wind). Since these figures are linear (1 megawatt of wind energy capacity requires 1 hectare of land, or 0.01 square kilometers), 3 million hectares of land could provide 3,000,000 megawatts of wind power capacity – or about three times as much as all the electric power generating capacity in America today. (Math-whiz readers will note that getting 30% of the nation’s power from wind energy by using 1/10th of the land requirement of oil and gas would mathematically lead to 300% of the nation’s power from 10/10th’s of the land requirement of oil and gas.)”

Comment by Simon Mahan on January 9, 2018 3:03 pm

Why would I ask for such a simple question to be removed? Obviously, somebody called you pretending to be someone they weren’t and asked you to remove that question. Or, nobody called at all and you’re imagining it. Or you’re just lying.

If I’ve ever personally called and asked for something be removed online, it was because someone (maybe or maybe not you) wrote things that I found to be an invasion of privacy and threatening to me and/or my family. It’s been a few years, but I have some recollection that happened somewhere along the line with this Clean Line garbage.

The numbers you have provided don’t match up. According to NREL, whom I assume is pro renewables, 1 megawatt of wind requires .25 sq km:

“The NREL researchers also surveyed this total land use. They found a rough average of 4 megawatts per square kilometer (about 10 megawatts per square mile).”

DOE says it’s 1/25 of that? Somebody has some explaining to do.

According to the DOE, the land that NREL says just one Clean Line project would require could actually provide 20% wind energy for the entire country?

By the way, where did you source the amount of land (over 12,300 sq miles by your numbers) that oil and gas are requiring to provide electricity?: “So for roughly 1/10th the land area used by oil and gas (3,200 square kilometers),…”

Comment by Matthew on January 9, 2018 4:07 pm

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