TVA aims to be cleaner, greener, CEO says

TUPELO – By 2020, the Tennessee Valley Authority wants to be one of the nation’s cleanest energy companies.
TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore, in a meeting with the Daily Journal editorial board, also said Tuesday that the goal of the energy company is to have its electricity produced one-third by nuclear power, one-third by coal and one-third by natural gas.
“Everybody wants blue skies, everybody wants to know we have clean air,” he said. “We want to be the nation’s leader in cleaner air, not necessarily cleanest air because some companies don’t have coal.”
Renewable energy – wind and solar, for example – are in the mix, perhaps generating up to 5 percent of TVA’s electricity in the future.
TVA serves 9 million customers in seven states, but Kilgore said “there is no wind” in its territory, particularly during hot days.
Currently, TVA buys wind power outside its service area at a premium. Solar energy can be utilized, but it’s expensive, and more than half the cost is converting DC power to AC power, he said.
So the key to cleaner energy is nuclear energy, Kilgore said.
“We’re going to build more nuclear plants to replace some of the older coal plants,” he said. “We’ll start with existing sites.”
Kilgore admitted that TVA “bit off more than it could chew,” in the early nuclear power days, with 17 sites under construction at one time.
TVA now has six reactors in use, with a seventh reactor at the Bellafonte plant in northwest Alabama. An eighth reactor will go there, and a ninth reactor will be built at another undisclosed site.
Building a nuclear plant isn’t cheap, but Kilgore said the fixed costs at the front end of such projects are mitigated by the lower cost of electricity generated over the long term.
The projected payback for Browns Ferry No. 1 was 12 years, but it paid for itself in two years. Three years ago during the extreme drought, when hydropower was all but nonexistent, TVA was able to use the nuclear plant instead of buying more expensive natural gas or buying power on the open market.
Producing greener energy also means spending billions on “scrubbing” technology for coal plants.
“We’ll have to retire some of the older coal plants, which were built in the ’50s,” he said. “It’s time to retire them. We’ll idle them first, but we can’t retire them right away because they’ll still have transmission lines and equipment. But we’ll see how the system operates with them being idled, then eventually disassemble them once they’re retired.”
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Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal