Chattanooga Times Free Press: TVA board urged to continue to nuclear push

Posted on October 8, 2010

KNOXVILLE — The new directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority should continue the agency’s renewed push to build more nuclear reactors and keep power rates low, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Thursday.

“TVA should be the national leader in developing new nuclear plants and, in fact, it already is,” Alexander, R-Tenn., told the TVA board during a swearing-in ceremony for four new board members.

“TVA has the expertise with more than 3,000 people today working on building more nuclear power and no one else can say that,” he said.

TVA is completing unfinished reactors at the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee and the Bellefonte plant in Alabama.

Although TVA power rates have jumped by more than 30 percent since March because of increases in fuel-cost adjustments, Alexander praised the role TVA has played in delivering cheap power for the past 77 years. He said TVA residential electric rates are still among the nation’s lowest and nuclear power is key to keeping an adequate supply of clean and low-cost power in the Tennessee Valley.

The new members who joined TVA’s policy-making board Thursday — Democrats Barbara Haskew, Marilyn Brown and Neil McBride and Republican Bill Sansom — pledged to continue TVA’s mission of providing low-cost power along with technological innovation and environmental stewardship.

During their confirmation hearings before a Senate panel in February, the new directors voiced support for both building more nuclear reactors and promoting more energy efficiency.

“I’m very interested in making these promises and goals a reality for TVA,” Haskew said Thursday.

The new directors, who were confirmed by the U.S. Senate by voice vote earlier this month, join five current directors to bring the TVA board to its full membership. The expanded board will hold its first meeting Nov. 4 in Chattanooga.

TVA Chairman Dennis Bottorff, who helped craft TVA’s vision for more nuclear power and efficiency promotion to cut generation from dirty coal plants, said the agency “has a better business model than any utility in this industry to be able to deliver cleaner, low-cost and reliable power.”

Alexander, a former Tennessee governor and U.S. secretary of education, said TVA has helped boost the average income in the Tennessee Valley from only one-third of the national average when TVA was created in 1933 to close to the U.S. average today.

TVA’s favorable power rates and its economic development program to encourage “megasites” in its service region helped lure major automakers and polysilicon manufacturers to Tennessee with billion-dollar-plus investments over the past four years from Volkswagen, Nissan, Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemical, Alexander said.

“It’s important that TVA continue to have large amounts of low-cost available energy,” he said.

Alexander said Tennesseans could reduce their energy consumption enough to offset the need for two nuclear reactors if homeowners and businesses cut their electricity consumption to the national average. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Tennessee has the highest per capita use of electricity of any state.

But Alexander still insists more nuclear reactors will be needed to replace aging coal-fired plants and to keep pace with growth in the region. The two new polysilicon plants being built for the growing solar power industry — Hemlock Semiconductor in Clarksville, Tenn., and Wacker Chemical near Charleston, Tenn. — each require 128 megawatts of power, or one-third as much power as the total U.S. solar power generation last year in the United States.

“TVA’s future, I think, is with nuclear power,” said Alexander, the co-chairman of the TVA Congressional Caucus. “Nuclear is the cleanest and the cheapest source of the type of reliable power that our major industries need in the valley.”

TVA’S NEWEST MEMBERS

* Bill Sansom served on the TVA board from 2006-09 and was chairman from 2006-08. He is chairman and chief executive officer of The H.T. Hackney Co. in Knoxville. His new term expires May 18, 2014.

* Barbara Haskew recently retired from Middle Tennessee State University, where she was a distinguished professor of economics. A resident of Elder Mountain near Chattanooga, she worked for TVA in the 1980s, helping develop rate structures for power distributors and industrial customers. Her term expires May 18, 2014.

* Marilyn Brown is a professor of energy policy at Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Public Policy and a distinguished visiting scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Her term expires May 18, 2012.

* Neil McBride is general counsel with the nonprofit Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. He also is an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law. His term expires May 18, 2013.