EDITORIAL: Conservation

The Tennessee Valley Authority's problems this week keeping pace with power demand for its 8.6 million customers required a reminder and request for all consumers that the first action to prevent actual brownouts is conservation.

TVA serves 36 Mississippi counties and at least parts of six other states in the Tennessee River watershed.

Although about 70 major, electricity-intensive industrial customers regionwide were reported by Associated Press to have been asked to stop production for varying periods, as of late Thursday TVA had not reported major general service interruptions. Those industrial customers had contracts allowing involuntary interruptions with notice from TVA.

A record-shattering heat wave across the Southeast and up the East Coast is placing unprecedented demands on power grids and generation plants operated by TVA and other power producers.

Electricity, which was not universally available in the valley before TVA began generating electricity and stringing transmission lines 70 years ago, is a finite resource like gasoline. Its availability is wholly dependent on generation capacity and grid reliability. TVA's grid is reliable; its generation capacity to meet peak demand this week clearly has been pushed to the wall.

Conservation by residential consumers, which has always been encouraged as a virtue, has become necessary because the capacity to generate is strained under intense circumstances like the heat wave.

Our multi-state region's population has had strong population growth, and TVA clearly needs its planned increased capacity with new nuclear reactors. But one of those is about a year away; another could be 2014 before it's on line. This week, one of the existing generators has been off line for repairs.

Homes and businesses have been asked to turn up thermostats and turn off unnecessary lights and appliances in hottest hours of the day between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. CDT.

The chief demand valleywide of course is air-conditioning, the great invention that has made summertime indoor life in the Deep South bearable and enjoyable.

Van Wardlaw, TVA vice president of transmission and reliability, said “each day is a new challenge.”

We hope, with a little electricity conservatism from all of us, none of us will be badly inconvenienced.

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