Alexander Calls Solar, River Turbines, Wood Chips Promising TVA Renewable Electricity Options

Urges Conservation, Nuclear Plants, Coal Plant Pollution Control for Clean Air and Affordable Rates

Posted on April 16, 2009

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told a forum on renewable electricity choices today that solar panels, underwater river turbines, and wood chips “are promising for TVA, but Tennessee mountaintops are absolutely the wrong place for wind turbines three times as tall as Neyland Stadium skyboxes, not to mention the transmission lines that come with them.” Witnesses at the TVA Congressional Caucus forum—called “Choices – TVA and Renewable Electricity”—included TVA Chairman Bill Sansom and Joe Hoagland, vice president environmental science, technology and policy; Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory; executives of manufacturers of solar power equipment; and a company that proposes to provide electricity from turbines submerged in the Mississippi River. Alexander and Congressman Heath Shuler (D-N.C. 11) co-chair the TVA Congressional Caucus, of which Congressman Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn. 4), who also participated in the forum, is a member. Senator Alexander also said, “An unbroken line of 500-foot turbines with flashing lights stretching from Chattanooga to Bristol would produce only one-fourth the electricity of the Watts Bar Unit 1 nuclear plant – and yet you would still need the nuclear plant because wind only blows 18 percent of the time here and you can’t store wind power. For our region, wind turbines would raise electricity rates, provide a puny amount of power, and destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment.” TVA is negotiating to purchase out-of-state wind power from the Dakotas in an effort to increase the portion of its electricity produced by renewable electricity. Congress is considering legislation that would require utilities to produce 20 percent of electricity from certain renewable sources by 2021. Alexander said that “until there is a breakthrough in the cost of solar power, it will be many years before renewable electricity from the sun, wind, and earth can supply as much as 10 percent of TVA’s electricity supply. Such renewable electricity today is about one and one-half percent of the nation’s electricity supply. In the meantime, TVA should push conservation, new nuclear power plants, and air-pollution-control equipment for coal plants in order to have both clean air and enough low-cost electricity to keep our jobs, heat our homes, and power our computers.” The Senator said coal, nuclear, and natural-gas plants are “an essential bridge to a clean-energy future—and even to expanding renewable power.” For example, he said two new plants making parts for solar panels came to Tennessee in part because each could buy 120 megawatts of electricity from TVA which is 62 percent coal, 33 percent nuclear, 4 percent hydro, and 1 percent natural gas. Alexander said, “Conservation should be TVA’s secret weapon because conservation offers more immediate promise for clean, reliable energy than renewable energy. We waste a lot of electricity. Tennesseans lead the country in per-capita use of electricity, using 43 percent more than the national average. If TVA customers were to reduce electricity use to the national average, TVA could avoid building four nuclear power plants the size of Watts Bar Unit 1, or five coal plants the size of Bull Run, or nine natural-gas plants the size of the new plant planned for Jackson. “In addition,” he said, “TVA has the equivalent of seven to eight nuclear power plants worth of unused electric capacity at night. If we electrified half our cars and trucks, we could plug them in at night without building one new power plant. And, if every TVA household switched 10 light bulbs from the typical incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs, it would be the equivalent of three-fourths of the Watts Bar Unit 1 plant,” he said. Alexander said Tennessee already is the 16th cleanest state in clean energy production because 40 percent of TVA power comes from nuclear power and hydroelectric dams. The Senator said that cost has to be a major priority and that most renewable sources being considered would raise monthly electric bills. According to the Nashville Tennessean, last December, ten percent of Nashville Electric Service customers told TVA they couldn’t afford to pay their electric bills. Among the promising choices for renewable electricity in the TVA region, Alexander pointed to: • Solar – He spotlighted the two new polysilicon plants for solar equipment at Clarksville and Cleveland and work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as Sharp Manufacturing in Memphis. Still, he said, solar power is less than one hundredth of one per cent of electricity nationally and costs four times more than electricity from coal, according to the Department of Energy. • Hydropower – Upgrading existing TVA dams and putting underwater turbines in the Mississippi River together could produce the equivalent of one-half the output of the Watts Bar Unit 1 nuclear plant. • Biomass – One southern utility is opening a plant where woodchips will be burned to produce the equivalent of one-twelfth of a new nuclear power unit. The Senator also said that “a Nobel Prize should be reserved for the scientist who discovers a commercially viable way to remove carbon from existing coal plants. We have all the coal we need, and today it provides 60 percent of TVA electricity as well as 50 per cent of the nation’s electricity. We also know how to get rid of three major pollutants—sulfur, nitrogen and mercury—and strong federal laws should require us to do it. The one puzzle that hasn’t been solved is what to do with the carbon from coal plants.” Since coming to the U.S. Senate, Alexander has introduced legislation during each two-year Congress to establish stronger clean-air rules for pollutants from coal plants, including carbon. He is also the lead Republican sponsor of legislation to end “mountaintop removal,” the practice of taking off the tops of mountains to find coal and dumping waste into streambeds.