Tennessee Valley Authority

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Tennessee Valley Authority
Type Federally-Owned Corporation
Headquarters 400 West Summit Hill Dr.
Knoxville, TN 37902
Area served AL, GA, KY, MS, NC, TN, VA
Key people Tom D. Kilgore, CEO
Industry Electric Producer & Distributor
Flood Control
Products Electricity
Revenue $9.24 billion (2007)[1]
Net income $383 million (2007)[1]
Employees 12,000 (2007)
Parent Federal Government of the U.S.
Website TVA.gov

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a federally-owned corporation in the United States, created by congressional charter in May 1933 to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly impacted by the Great Depression. TVA was envisioned not only as an electricity provider, but also as a regional economic development agency that would use federal experts and electricity to rapidly modernize the region's economy and society.

TVA's jurisdiction covers most of Tennessee, parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky, and small slices of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. It is a political entity with a territory the size of a major state, and with some state powers (such as eminent domain), but unlike a state, it has no citizenry or elected officials. It was the first large regional planning agency of the federal government and remains the largest. Under the leadership of David Lilienthal ("Mr. TVA"), the Authority became a model for American efforts to modernize Third World agrarian societies.[2]

TVA is the largest electricity provider, with sales of $9.24 billion in 2007. It sells power to 159 local distributors, and directly to approximately 60 major industrial customers and federal installations.[3]


Power portfolio


Out of its total 34,615 MW of electric generating capacity in 2005 (3.24% of the U.S. total), TVA produced 51.0% from coal, 20.8% from nuclear, 14.9% from hydroelectricity, 13.2% from natural gas, and 0.1% from oil. TVA owns power plants in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee; 60.0% of TVA's electric generating capacity comes from power plants in Tennessee, and 24.5% comes from Alabama.[4]

On March 4, 2011, TVA said in its its 20-year Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that it plans to increase renewable, nuclear and natural gas power generation over the next two decades, while cutting coal usage. TVA operates 11 coal-fired power plants with 56 active units and three idled units with a total capacity of 14,500 MW. TVA said it could "idle" up to 4,700 MW by 2017, rather than retire the units, so they would still be available to return with modifications if needed. TVA has said it plans to retire about 1,000 MW of old, inefficient coal units. Despite all the coal units TVA could idle by 2017, the company also said it could build a new coal plant of up to 900 MW to preserve the option of coal with carbon capture. TVA also expects to complete a second 1,150 MW nuclear reactor at Watts Bar by 2013, and two new reactors at Bellefonte in Alabama and other units at unnamed sites. TVA also said it could add up to 9,300 MW of natural gas-fired capacity by buying existing combustion turbines and combined cycle plants from energy merchants or building new plants at unnamed locations.[5]

As of 2012 TVA is producing only one-third of its power with coal-fired generating units, a sharp decline from fiscal 2011, when coal-fired boilers produced 52 percent of TVA's power, and it is the first time in decades that coal has not fueled the majority of the electricity generated by the agency.[6]

At its November 14, 2013 board meeting, TVA committed to a future power mix made up of 20% coal, 40% nuclear, 20% gas, and 20% hydro and renewables.[7]

Existing coal-fired power plants

The TVA owned 63 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 17,647 MW of capacity. Here is a list of the TVA's coal power plants:[4][8][9]

Plant Name State County Year(s) Built Capacity 2007 CO2 Emissions 2006 SO2 Emissions
Cumberland TN Stewart 1973 2600 MW 19,600,000 tons 18,352 tons
Paradise KY Muhlenberg 1963, 1970 2558 MW 14,500,000 tons 83,926 tons
Widows Creek AL Jackson 1952, 1953, 1954, 1961, 1965 1969 MW 9,976,000 tons 33,507 tons
Shawnee KY McCracken 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 1750 MW 9,852,000 tons 35,815 tons
Kingston TN Roane 1954, 1955 1700 MW 10,100,000 tons 55,473 tons
Johnsonville TN Humphreys 1951, 1952, 1953, 1958, 1959 1485 MW 7,735,000 tons 86,793 tons
Colbert AL Colbert 1955, 1965 1350 MW 7,317,000 tons 39,942 tons
Gallatin TN Sumner 1956, 1957, 1959 1255 MW 6,817,000 tons 23,459 tons
Allen TN Shelby 1959 990 MW 4,811,000 tons 17,413 tons
Bull Run TN Anderson 1967 950 MW 4,523,000 tons 27,987 tons
John Sevier TN Hawkins 1955, 1956, 1957 800 MW 5,199,000 tons 30,126 tons
Watts Bar TN Rhea 1942, 1943, 1945 240 MW N/A N/A

In 2006, TVA's 12 coal-fired power plants emitted at least 100.4 million tons of CO2 (1.67% of all U.S. CO2 emissions) and at least 453,000 tons of SO2 (3.02% of all U.S. SO2 emissions).

TVA scales back renewable energy program

On Sept. 13, 2011, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced that it would be scaling back its Generation Partners Program, cutting the size of eligible systems by 75%. The action is a "blow to the renewable energy industries that have been one of few bright spots in the region’s economy over the past several years," according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Systems above the new 50 kilowatt (kW) cap will now be shuffled to TVA’s Standard Offer Program that is poorly designed to encourage development of the Valley’s renewable energy resources. [10]

Proposed Plant Retirements

TVA at the Crossroads, produced by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

December 2009: TVA considering shutting down some aging coal plants

In August 2009, CEO Tom D. Kilgore announced that TVA was studying the possibility of closing its John Sevier Fossil Plant in Tennessee and the oldest six units at its Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Alabama. A federal judge has ordered TVA to install pollution equipment on the plants by the end of 2013, at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. However, the company has not yet budgeted any money for the improvements. In 2010 TVA is planning to begin building an $820 million gas-powered plant to replace the generation at its John Servier Plant. The agency has already reduced power production from the oldest six units at Widows Creek. Environmental groups want TVA to shut down or convert to cleaner fuels the oldest and least efficient of its coal plants, including Widows Creek, John Sevier, and Johnsonville plants.[11]

August 2010: TVA Announces Plans to Retire 9 Coal-Fired Units

On August 24, 2010 TVA announced that it will retire 9 coal-fired generating units totaling about 1,000 megawatts of capacity at three locations beginning in fiscal year 2011: Shawnee Fossil Plant Unit 10 in Kentucky, John Sevier Fossil Plant Units 1 and 2 in Tennessee, and Widows Creek Fossil Plant Units 1-6 in Alabama, including six units at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant. In addition TVA stated that it will going to eliminate 200 jobs at these plants starting in 2011, but the workers will be placed in other positions within TVA. CEO Tom D. Kilgore said that TVA would replace the sidelined coal power with greater reliance on nuclear power and energy efficiency.[12]

September 2010: TVA report suggests more nuclear, less coal

In September 2010, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Integrated Resource Plan suggest the company's future is likely to include more nuclear power production and less reliance on coal for the next two decades, including idling more coal fired units and adding nuclear units as early as 2018. A handful of strategies were considered, but the report indicated that TVA would be better positioned in the future if the utility diversified its power production and added more energy efficient and demand response programs. The public can comment on the plan through November 2010, and then TVA will submit the plan to the Environmental Protection Agency in March 2010 for a review of the environmental impact. The TVA board will approve plans in April.[13]

April 2011: TVA to phase out 18 coal units, install pollution controls

On April 14, 2011, North Carolina settled a 5-year-old lawsuit - North Carolina v. TVA - with the TVA over emissions from its coal-fired plants. The deal was part of a larger settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over TVA violations of the clean air act at 11 of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee.[14]

As part of the North Carolina agreement, TVA agreed to phase out 18 units of its coal plants, adding up to 2,700 MW, and to install modern pollution controls on three dozen additional units.[15] The phase out includes two units at the John Sevier Fossil Plant, all 10 units at the Johnsonville Fossil Plant, both in Tennessee, and six units at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in north Alabama.[16]

As part of the EPA agreement, TVA will invest an estimated $3 to $5 billion on pollution controls, invest $350 million on clean energy projects, and pay a civil penalty of $10 million.[17]

The consent decree is the end of a saga that started with a 2004 lawsuit against TVA by the state of North Carolina, alleging that the independent federal utility had not complied with an 1999 - 2000 administrative compliance order it entered with EPA to reduce pollution. The states of Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club and Our Children's Earth Foundation all joined the lawsuit.

Amicus briefs for TVA were filed in 2009 by the National Association of Manufacturers joined in an amicus brief supporting the TVA with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, the "Public Nuisance Fairness Coalition", the Utility Air Regulatory Group (represented by Hunton & Williams), and the American Forest & Paper Association.

On July 26, 2010, a federal appeals court reversed a judge's ruling in North Carolina v. TVA requiring prompt installation of upgraded emission controls at four TVA coal-fired power plants, three in Tennessee and one in Alabama. U.S. District Judge Lacy Thornburg had ordered the accelerated cleanup at the TVA plants, ruling that emissions affecting air quality in North Carolina's scenic western mountains were a "public nuisance." A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision. Appeals court Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote that allowing the ruling to stand would undermine the nation's "carefully created" Clean Air Act regulatory scheme. North Carolina then sought a rehearing.[18]

Alabama: Colbert Fossil Plant Units 1-4 to be idled or retired in 2016; Unit 5 also to be retired

In July 2013 TVA announced plans to idle or remove from service Colbert Fossil Plant units 1-4 starting June 30, 2016. The plans are the result of a 2011 Consent Decree arising out of consolidated litigation brought by several states and environmental groups for violations of the Clean Air Act. Under the decree, TVA was required to notify EPA of its plan for controlling air pollution at units 1-4 by June 30, 2013. Rather than installing new equipment, TVA opted to idle or retire the plants. According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, unit 5 of the plant, which operated at only 15% of capacity in 2012, appeared also to be heading toward retirement.[19] On November 14, 2013, TVA added Unit 5 of the Colbert plant to the retirement list. The closure date was not specified. TVA also announced retirements at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant and the Paradise Fossil Plant in Tennessee.[20][21]

Proposed plant conversions

Widows Creek Fossil Plant

On April 14, 2011, TVA and North Carolina settled a 5-year-old lawsuit - North Carolina v. TVA - over TVA emissions from its coal-fired plants. As part of the agreement, TVA agreed to phase out 18 units of its coal plants, including six units at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant, taking all but two offline.[22][23]

In May 2012, TVA began considering a switch to natural gas for the plant, linked up to a proposed natural gas pipeline from Tennessee through Alabama to Georgia.[24]

On November 14, 2013, TVA announced that unit 8, one of the two remaining units of the plant, would be retired. The agency left the timeframe of the retirement to the discretion of the CEO. TVA also announced retirements at the Colbert Fossil Plant and the Paradise Fossil Plant.[25][26]

Other plants

Existing Gas And/Or Oil-Fired Plants

Existing Nuclear Power Stations

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from TVA coal plants

In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants.[27] Fine particle pollution consists of a complex mixture of soot, heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Among these particles, the most dangerous are those less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which are so tiny that they can evade the lung's natural defenses, enter the bloodstream, and be transported to vital organs. Impacts are especially severe among the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, and pneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal plant emissions. These deaths and illnesses are major examples of coal's external costs, i.e. uncompensated harms inflicted upon the public at large. Low-income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, due to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities. To monetize the health impact of fine particle pollution from each coal plant, Abt assigned a value of $7,300,000 to each 2010 mortality, based on a range of government and private studies. Valuations of illnesses ranged from $52 for an asthma episode to $440,000 for a case of chronic bronchitis.[28]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from TVA coal plants

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 777 $5.7 billion
Heart attacks 1,139 $124.3 million
Asthma attacks 12,630 $0.66 million
Chronic bronchitis 469 $207.9 million
Hospital admissions 559 $13.1 million
Asthma ER visits 739 $0.27 million

Source: "Health Impacts - annual - of Existing Plants," Clean Air Task Force Excel worksheet, available under "Data Annex" at "Death and Disease from Power Plants," Clean Air Task Force. Note: This data includes the following plants owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority: Colbert, Widows Creek, Paradise, Shawnee, Allen, Bull Run, Gallatin, Cumberland, Johnsonville, Kingston, and John Sevier.

Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill

TVA ash spill in Harriman, TN on December 25, 2008. Photo courtesy of United Mountain Defense.

For more details, see TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill

On December 22, 2008, a retention pond wall collapsed at TVA's Kingston plant in Harriman, TN, releasing a combination of water and fly ash that flooded 12 homes, spilled into nearby Watts Bar Lake, contaminated the Emory River, and caused a train wreck. Officials said 4 to 6 feet of material escaped from the pond to cover an estimated 400 acres of adjacent land. A train bringing coal to the plant became stuck when it was unable to stop before reaching the flooded tracks.[29] Hundreds of fish were floating dead downstream from the plant.[30] Water tests showed elevated levels of lead and thallium.[31]

Originally TVA estimated that 1.7 million cubic yards of waste had burst through the storage facility. Company officials said the pond had contained a total of about 2.6 million cubic yards of sludge. However, the company revised its estimates on December 26, when it released an aerial survey showing that 5.4 million cubic yards (1.09 billion gallons) of fly ash was released from the storage facility.[30] Several days later, the estimate was increased to over 1 billion gallons spilled.[32]

The TVA spill was 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which released 10.9 billion gallons of crude oil.[33] Cleanup was expected to take weeks and cost tens of millions of dollars.[34]

The 40-acre pond was used to contain ash created by the coal-burning plant.[29] The water and ash that were released in the accident are filled with toxic substances. Each year coal preparation creates waste containing an estimated 13 tons of mercury, 3236 tons of arsenic, 189 tons of beryllium, 251 tons of cadmium, and 2754 tons of nickel, and 1098 tons of selenium.[35]

TVA has estimated the cleanup will cost $1.2 billion. The utility is self-funding, so ratepayers in the seven-state region are paying the tab with higher electric bills.[36]

Legal actions

On December 23, 2008 the environmental group Greenpeace asked for a criminal investigation into the incident, focusing on whether the TVA could have prevented the spill.[37][38]

On December 30, 2008 a group of landowners filed suit against the TVA for $165 million in Tennessee state court.[39] Also on December 30, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy announced its intention to sue the TVA under the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.[39]

On January 6, 2009, another lawsuit was announced by environmental groups. The pending lawsuit, brought by the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, and Public Justice, accuses TVA of failing to safeguard the public and the environment against the massive coal ash spill.[40]

Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club on November 12, 2009 appealed a permit issued to TVA that would allow the company to dump unlimited amounts of additional pollutants into Tennessee's Clinch River. The groups filed their appeal before the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board. The action was in response to TVA's Kingston spill last year.[41]

In December 2009, hundreds of people filed lawsuits against TVA before the one-year deadline, adding to several hundred others who had already filed suit over the Kingston spill. More than 20 separate cases were filed on Tuesday, December 22. TVA has said it should be immune from the lawsuits, because it was providing a government service.[42]

On September 14, 2011, six claims covering hundreds of people regarding TVA liability went to bench trial before U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan, and is expected to last about two weeks. As a federal utility, TVA contends it is protected from some liability claims. It also maintains that under Tennessee law it has no legal duty to keep its reservoirs and shorelines safe for the plaintiffs' recreational use and enjoyment. TVA has said plaintiffs have not shown that coal ash particles were transmitted to their properties in "concentrations sufficient to cause property damage and/or personal injury or to constitute a taking."[43]

More than 40 other lawsuits are set for a Nov. 1, 2011 trial that will individually decide any damages.[43]

On August 23, 2012, U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan ruled that “TVA is liable for the ultimate failure of North Dike which flowed, in part, from TVA’s negligent nondiscretionary conduct.” The litigation involves more than 60 cases and more than 800 plaintiffs, and will allow their claims of negligence, trespass, and private nuisance to move to Phase II proceedings, meaning each plaintiff must prove the elements of his or her claims by a preponderance of the evidence.[44]

Alabama Proposes Coal Ash Regulation

On March 4, 2010 the Alabama House introduced a bill that would allow Perry County, Alabama to levy a $5 per ton fee on coal ash disposed at a privately owned landfill in the city of Uiontown. Alabama Rep. Ralph Howard of Greensboro, Alabama introduced the bill. Currently the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is shipping coal sludge that breached the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. TVA anticipates that it will ship approximately 3 million cubic feet of coal and ash to the landfill before the clean-up is completed.

Revenue from the levy would be spent evenly between the towns of Uniontown and Marion. The total amount raised could be as much as $15 million.

Democratic Rep. Ralph Howard of Greensboro introduced the bill Thursday.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is shipping coal ash and sludge that breached an earthen dike at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee to the landfill. TVA plans to ship about 3 million cubic feet of coal and ash to the landfill.

Howard said revenue from the fee would be split evenly between the cities of Uniontown and Marion. Howard estimated the fee could raise as much as $15 million. If the legislation passes voters would have to approve the measure in their November 2010 election.[45]

TVA likely to raise rates to cover unexpected expenses

In April 2009, TVA Chairman Bill Sansom said the company is facing "upward pressure" on its rates, stemming from several challenges:[46]

  • The company is facing millions of dollars in costs from the coal ash spill at Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. TVA has already spent $68 million on cleanup, and it estimates the final cost could surpass $800 million, not including fines and lawsuits. The Associated Press reported on April 11 that TVA had already spent over $20 million purchasing 71 properties contaminated by the coal-ash spill and is negotiating to buy more.[47]
  • In January 2009, a federal judge ruled that TVA is required to speed up its efforts to reduce emissions from four coal plants in North Carolina in North Carolina v. TVA. The company estimates that completing the necessary smokestack improvements by the 2014 deadline will cost $1.8 billion, which is about $1 billion higher than originally planned.
  • TVA has seen a 5 percent decline in power sales stemming from the recession, predominantly with its industrial customers.
  • The company's retirement fund has lost $3 billion in the stock market. TVA invested $81 million in the fund in 2008, but says it may need to invest an additional $300 million next year.

Although falling fuel prices have enabled TVA to cut much of a 20 percent rate increase that took effect in October 2008, the company is considering another increase in October 2009 to mitigate these expenses. TVA will set its fiscal 2010 budget and rate changes in August.[46]

TVA shipping coal ash from Tennessee disaster to Georgia and Alabama

In a test case, some of the coal ash waste that spilled in TVA's Kingston plant disaster is being sent to Georgia and Alabama. TVA is loading it onto rail cars, where the company says it will be safely contained.[48]

In Georgia, the coal waste is being shipped to the Veolia landfill in Taylor Count, about 100 miles south of Atlanta. Local residents have dubbed the dump site "Trash Mountain." Sierra Club representative Mark Woodall said the landfill is poorly suited to coal ash storage, because it is "located in a groundwater recharge area, and it's a danger to our groundwater resources in Georgia."[48] In Alabama, a landfill in Perry County in the west central part of the state is also receiving ash shipments.[49]

The ash will be transported from Tennessee to the out-of-state landfills through May 15, 2009. State and federal officials will evaluate whether the tests are successful, and if so whether to bring in more of the TVA coal waste.[48] Just days after news of the test shipments were announced, EPA decided to take over cleanup of the spill. The agreement between EPA and TVA, which was executed under the Superfund law, has EPA overseeing the cleanup and TVA reimbursing EPA for its oversight costs.[50]

Landfill selections raise environmental justice concerns

TVA Sends Toxic Coal Ash to Poor Black Communities

Both the Georgia and Alabama landfills are located in areas with higher rates of poverty and higher percentages of African-American residents than state averages, a situation that has raised concerns about environmental justice. In Taylor County, more than 24 percent of the population lives in poverty, and over 40 percent of the population is African-American; by contrast, the state as a whole has a 14 percent poverty rate and is 30 percent African-American. Perry County in Alabama has more than 32 percent of its residents living in poverty and a 69 percent African-American population, compared with the state as a whole, which has a poverty rate of over 16 percent and a 26 percent African-American population.[49] Perry County District Attorney Michael Jackson criticized the EPA for allowing TVA to dispose of ash at a landfill in a poor community in Alabama, calling the decision "tragic and shortsighted." He vowed to monitor the disposal site to ensure the process complies with environmental regulations.[51]

Reports show that TVA also considered moving the coal ash to two communities in eastern Tennessee, both of which have populations of well over 90 percent white residents and poverty rates of under 21 percent. The two Tennessee sites considered were Athens in McMinn County and Oneida in Scott County. However, the company sought approval from state regulators solely for the sites in Georgia and Alabama. The communities that are receiving the coal waste from TVA were not provided an opportunity for public comment on the decision.[49]

Report identifies causes of spill

A report released in late June 2009 identified the main factors contributing to the massive Kingston coal ash spill. TVA hired engineering firm AECOM to analyze the underlying causes of the spill. According to the report, the underlying layer of the coal ash sludge was unstable and went undiscovered for decades by previous TVA stability analyses. The "creep failure" of this layer and liquefaction of the ash triggered the spill. The report also identified other factors including the construction of terraced retaining walls on top of the wet ash, which narrowed the area for storing the ash and in turn increased the pressure exerted by the rising stacks. Engineer Bill Walton said these factors created a "perfect storm" leading to the Kingston disaster. AECOM's report discounted heavy rains and seismic activity as contributing causes.[52][53]

Inspector General accuses TVA of deliberately influencing report

On July 28, 2009, TVA's Inspector General Richard Moore released a report concluding that the agency had improperly directed AECOM's investigation into the causes of the Kingston spill in order to protect itself from lawsuits. Moore criticized the decision to allow TVA's attorneys to hire the consultant and narrow the report in a way that "predetermined the choice that would be made between accountability and litigation strategy." As a result, the report overemphasized an underlying layer of slimy ash as the trigger for the collapse, an explanation Moore said was intended to reduce the legal culpability and liability of TVA management. According to Moore, "it appears TVA management made a conscious decision to present to the public only facts that supported an absence of liability for TVA for the Kingston spill." The report also revealed internal agency memos about warnings that could have prevented the spill, and suggested that other TVA sites may be at risk of similar collapses.[54]

TVA consultants criticize ash storage operations

Also in July 2009, consultants McKenna Long and Aldridge of Atlanta released a report commissioned by TVA following the massive Kingston spill. The report cited widespread problems with how the federal utility deals with its coal ash storage, saying that the controls, systems, and corporate culture required for proper management of the coal ash sties at its power plants were not in place. According to the consultants, TVA had no standard operating or maintenance procedures prior to the spill and neglected to provide annual training for its safety inspectors.[55]

TVA vows to revamp coal ash operations

TVA vowed to revamp its systems and culture in response to the two studies identifying weaknesses in its coal ash storage operations. The Authority's board called for a plan to correct the deficiencies at all TVA coal ash impoundments, including restructuring the utility's procedures, standards, controls, and accountability.[56] At a July 28 congressional hearing on the Kingston spill, CEO Tom Kilgore testified, "We have to change, and if that means heads have to roll and people have to leave, then so be it."[54]

After the accident, the TVA board voted to replace its six ash ponds -- including the one at Kingston, three others in Tennessee, and one each in Kentucky and Alabama -- with dry storage, at a cost of $1.5 billion over 10 years.[57]

No bonuses for TVA executives

At a meeting on November 19, 2009, TVA's top executives were told not to expect performance bonuses because of the massive Kingston spill and a drop in electricity sales related to the economic downturn. In addition, about 3,300 other managers and specialists will not receive pay raises in fiscal year 2010. President and CEO Tom D. Kilgore said, "It was a year overshadowed by Kingston and the economic downturn." Kilgore received over $1 million in bonuses for fiscal 2008, and nine executives who report to him received $1.2 million. TVA directors will extend Kilgore's $300,000 annual retention bonus for another four years, but without bonuses Kilgore's compensation, which includes a base salary of $875,000, is still about 45 percent below the average for top utility executives.[58]

Waste water spreading

The winter of 2010 brought heavy rains to the region, causing waste water runoff from the landfill be be greater than expected. As a result 25 inches of rain caused 100,000 gallons of polluted water to be dealt with, likely causing pollution to spread to other locales. The TVA nor the companies hired to take the ash or environmental regulators have discussed these issues with the public.[59]

Second sludge release in Tennessee

The weekend of January 3rd, 2009, less than two weeks after the catastrophe at Kingston Fossil Plant, a deliberate TVA sludge release occurred on the Ocoee River, which flows into the Hiwasee and then into the Tennessee Rivers. The spill, which contained heavy metals and other toxic substances, caused a fish kill and prompted an investigation by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. TVA workers had been draining a reservoir and repairing a dam when they released bottom sediment into the Ocoee. As of January 9, TVA had not commented on the situation.[60]

Study of TVA coal ash ponds finds shortcomings

In October 2010 a study found that half of 24 ash ponds at the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-burning power plants meet the minimum criteria for stability.

"All issues are being addressed," said John Montgomery, with Stantec, a geotechnical engineering firm that assessed the ponds for the utility. "I'm not aware of any recommendations they haven't picked up and taken action on."

Environmentalists stated they were glad TVA was looking internally at coal ash pond stability, but stated the more studies were necessary, including seismic. TVA has said they will change all their facilities from wet ash storage to dry ash storage by the end of 2019. That is expected to cost between $1.5 billion to $2 billion.[61]

Duke University scientists report TVA spill is still a problem

In November 2010 a study published by Duke University scientists in peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology, documented contaminant levels in aquatic ecosystems over an 18-month period following the TVA coal ash spill in 2008.

By analyzing more than 220 water samples collected over the 18-month period, the Duke team found that high concentrations of arsenic from the TVA coal ash remained in the water trapped within river-bottom sediment — long after contaminant levels in surface waters dropped back below safe thresholds.

Samples extracted from 10 centimeters to half a meter below the surface of sediment in downstream rivers contained arsenic levels of up to 2,000 parts per billion — well above the EPA’s thresholds of 10 parts per billion for safe drinking water, and 150 parts per billion for protection of aquatic life.

The authors argued that these findings were evidence that coal ash waste ought to be designated a hazardous substance by the EPA. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.[62]

Coal waste spill in Alabama

On January 9, 2009, TVA confirmed another coal waste spill on the heels of its Kingston Fossil Plant disaster. The spill, which TVA said originated from a gypsum treatment operation, occurred at its Widows Creek coal-fired power plant in northeast Alabama. About 10,000 gallons of toxic gypsum material were released, some of which spilled into Widows Creek and the nearby Tennessee River.[63] U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, immediately called for a full review of all TVA's waste disposal sites.[64]

Alabama Proposes Coal Ash Regulation

On March 4, 2010 the Alabama House introduced a bill that would allow Perry County, Alabama to levy a $5 per ton fee on coal ash disposed at a privately owned landfill in the city of Uiontown. Alabama Rep. Ralph Howard of Greensboro, Alabama introduced the bill. Currently the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is shipping coal sludge that breached the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. TVA anticipates that it will ship approximately 3 million cubic feet of coal and ash to the landfill before the clean-up is completed.

Revenue from the levy would be spent evenly between the towns of Uniontown and Marion. The total amount raised could be as much as $15 million.

Democratic Rep. Ralph Howard of Greensboro introduced the bill Thursday.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is shipping coal ash and sludge that breached an earthen dike at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee to the landfill. TVA plans to ship about 3 million cubic feet of coal and ash to the landfill.

Howard said revenue from the fee would be split evenly between the cities of Uniontown and Marion. Howard estimated the fee could raise as much as $15 million. If the legislation passes voters would have to approve the measure in their November 2010 election.[65]

Other Waste Sites

EPA releases list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash dumps

In response to demands from environmentalists as well as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, EPA made public its list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal waste dumps. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not include an assessment of the likelihood of such an event. The list includes sites in 10 states, including 12 in North Carolina, 9 in Arizona, 6 in Kentucky, 6 in Ohio, and 4 in West Virginia. Eleven of the sites belong to American Electric Power, 10 to Duke Energy. No Tennessee Valley Authority sites were included on the list. EPA relied on self-reporting by utilities to rank the facilities, and TVA classied all of its dump sites - including Kingston Fossil Plant - as "low hazard."[66]

TVA reclassifies sites as "high hazard"

Two weeks after the release of EPA's list, Tennessee Valley Authority reclassified four of its coal disposal sites to “high.” The four sites include Colbert and Widows Creek Fossil Plants in Alabama and Bull Run Fossil Plant and Cumberland Steam Plant in Tennessee. TVA reclassified most of its other dumps as "significant" hazards, meaning that a dam failure would likely cause economic loss and environmental damage. TVA had initially ranked all its sites as having "low" hazard potential.[67]

TVA to convert all coal waste sites to dry storage

In response to the massive Kingston Fossil plant spill, TVA announced in August 2009 that it would be converting all of its coal waste and gypsum operations to dry storage. The utility has 26 ash and gypsum impoundments at 7 coal plants. Under a TVA proposal, six wet-ash plants in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee would be converted within eight years. Five plants that have wet-gypsum operations will also be converted. Dry ash storage consists of vacuuming out coal waste and containing it in silos, whereas wet ash storage involves flushing coal waste with water and storing it in ash ponds. The agency has hired three consulting firms to help with the project, in response to increased congressional scrutiny and anticipated stricter regulations of coal ash. [68]

Study: Weak Coal Ash Regulations in Tennessee Highlight Need for Federal Law

A report released in October 2010 by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and other environmental groups titled "State of Coal Ash Regulations in Tennessee" cited weak state regulations in Tennessee as an example of the need for federal reform regarding coal ash. As such, the report said regulation should not be left up to state governments: "Given that states like Tennessee have failed to accept regulatory responsibility for coal ash in the past, it is unwise to rely solely on states to ensure that electric generators safely dispose of their coal waste."[69]

In Tennessee, the report noted, two years after the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill, the largest industrial spill in U.S. history, the state had not beefed up laws to handle toxic waste from its coal-fired power plants: "Unfortunately, Tennessee has failed to become a leader in setting strong standards for coal ash disposal," the authors wrote.[69]

A 2010 review of 24 coal ash ponds at the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-burning power plants found that only half of them meet the minimum criteria for stability. TVA has said they will change all their facilities from wet ash storage to dry ash storage by the end of 2019, at an estimated cost of between $1.5 billion to $2 billion.[70]

The state of Tennessee disputed the report and wrote in a press release that the study "was aimed at supporting the management of coal as a hazardous waste and SACE chose to attack the state's response to the Kingston ash spill as a means to make that case."[71]

Study finds dangerous level of hexavalent chromium at TVA coal waste sites

The study "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash," released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011, reported elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, a highly potent cancer-causing chemical, at several coal ash sites in Tennessee.[72] In all, the study cited 29 sites in 17 states where hexavalent chromium contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash as well as from studies by EarthJustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Sierra Club.[73][74][75][76] It included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin.[72]

According to the report, hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) was found at elevated levels at the following sites:[72]

  • TVA's Johnsonville Fossil Plant unlined coal ash pond at 620 ppb (parts per billion) - 31,000 times the proposed California drinking water goals and 6.2 times above the federal drinking water standard.
  • TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant's unlined coal waste pond at 100 ppb (parts per billion) - 5,000 times the proposed California drinking water goals and above the federal drinking water standard.

A press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[77]

According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.[72]

Groundwater contamination at two TVA plants

In July 2011, tests found coal ash contamination in the groundwater of all but one of the 10 Tennessee Valley Authority plants assessed, including two sites where investigators say the pollution could pose a health hazard. The inspector general’s assessment pointed in particular to the contamination at the Gallatin Fossil Plant and Cumberland Steam Plant in Tennessee. Excessive levels of arsenic and other toxic metals from coal ash were detected at Cumberland, 50 miles northwest of Nashville, while beryllium, cadmium and nickel were discovered at Gallatin.

In addition, the inspector general said that TVA officials for more than 10 years have found indications that toxic metals could be leaking from a coal ash pond at the authority’s Allen Fossil Plant. Arsenic above currently allowable levels was found repeatedly in a monitoring well at the site, which lies above a deep, high-quality aquifer that supplies drinking water to Memphis and nearby areas.

A TVA spokeswoman told the newspaper in an email that, at the time of the testing at Allen, the contamination levels were within limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. However, the inspector general’s report said that arsenic levels exceeded a tighter standard later adopted by the EPA.[78]

Citizen protest

March 14, 2009: 14 Arrested at TVA headquarters in Knoxville, TN

Local residents joined dozens of activists from across the country in a demonstration at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s headquarters, which resulted in the arrest of 14 individuals, after participating in a "die in" in front of the building. This event was held in solidarity with communities affected by the destructive impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining and the survivors of the coal ash disaster in Harriman. The demonstration began with a rally in Market Square, where organizers from United Mountain Defense and Mountain Justice spoke about coal's impact from cradle to grave on communities in Appalachia and the surrounding area. The crowd then marched through downtown Knoxville and ended at TVA’s headquarters. At the end of the march people interested in participating in Civil Disobedience gave a statement as to why they wanted to take this action. With the support of a singing crowd each participant fell to the ground representing the deaths caused by the coal industry. After a few minutes Knoxville law enforcement informed the participants that they were blocking the sidewalk, and that they needed to remove themselves from the area. All 14 people were arrested, and cited for loitering.[79]

December 5, 2008: Santa protest at Tennessee Valley Authority headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee

With help from United Mountain Defense and Three Rivers Earth First! Santa and elves came armed with coal and switches for the largest purchaser of coal in North America: TVA. Santa read letters from sad children who could not go outside and play sometimes because of days where it is literally unhealthy to breathe in Knoxville, letters from children sad that too many of their grandparents die slow deaths of extended asphyxiation while lugging around bottled oxygen, and letters from children complaining that mountains are being blown up to get at that coal. The children said they felt that the drinking water was important and that they liked playing in the forest. After being asked to leave the premises, the North Pole-based environmental group proceeded outside to sing anti-coal carols and hand out information sheets.[80]

December 11 and 12, 2008: Santa detailed at Tennessee Valley Authority offices in Chatanooga, Tennessee

On Decemer 11, while attempting again to deliver letters from sad children, Santa was detained by the TVA police for an hour and half and issued a warning citation for supposedly disrupting a board meeting which had officially ended. The arresting TVA officer became concerned when he discovered that Santa had switches concealed in his britches. Santa was released after being detained without milk and cookies. Santa told reporters: “I am depending on all the little activist elves to deliver more coal to federal agencies in hopes to influence the first 100 days of president-elect Obama's administration through the newly appointed agency heads. This new administration must make stopping strip mining and addressing the destructive impact of coal on Santa’s children its first priority. Ho Ho Ho.” [81] At 4 p.m. on December 12, while Santa and his elves were dancing and singing, TVA sent out one of its head PR people, Gill Francis. Mr. Francis wanted to meet and negotiate with Santa but Santa was too busy and took a number. After finishing the dance, Santa had his head elf call Mr. Francis to come back out and negotiate. When Mr. Francis appeared slightly out of breath Santa said he was sorry and put coal and switches in Mr. Francis hands saying, "This is the least favorite part of my job Mr. Francis--but TVA has been veerrrrry naughty." As Mr. Francis stormed off Santa and his elves resumed dancing.[82]

Coal lobbying

TVA is a member of the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), an umbrella lobbying group for all coal ash interests that includes major coal burners Duke Energy, Southern Company and American Electric Power as well as dozens of other companies. The group argues that the so-called "beneficial-use industry" would be eliminated if a "hazardous" designation was given for coal ash waste.[83]

ACAA set up a front group called Citizens for Recycling First, which argues that using toxic coal ash as fill in other products is safe, despite evidence to the contrary.[83]

PR Team

The TVA communications and government relations functions, operate as two organizations and are headed by:

Mould and Reynolds report "directly to CEO and President Tom Kilgore.[84]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 2007 Annual Report, Tennessee Valley Authority, p. 2.
  2. David Ekbladh. "'Mr. TVA: Grass-Roots Development, David Lilienthal, and the Rise and Fall of the Tennessee Valley Authority as a Symbol for U.S. Overseas Development, 1933–1973." Diplomatic History 26 (3) (2002), 335-374.
  3. Tennessee Valley Authority, "TVA at a Glance", Tennessee Valley Authority website, accessed June 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration, accessed April 2008.
  5. "TVA 20-year power plan adds nuclear, natgas, cuts coal" Reuters, March 4, 2011.
  6. Tom Charlier, "Coal no longer king in TVA region as more gas-fired plants used to generate electricity," The Commercial Appeal, October 8, 2012.
  7. "Chairman's Report: TVA Board Meeting November 14, 2013," p. 46
  8. Environmental Integrity Project, Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants, July 2007.
  9. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed Aug. 2008.
  10. "TVA decision to downsize Generation Partners defies logic," Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Sept. 16, 2011.
  11. "TVA may shutter aging coal-fired plants," Chattanooga Times Free Press, August 24, 2009.
  12. "TVA to idle 9 coal-fired units," Tennessee Valley Authority press release, August 24, 2010.
  13. "TVA's future plans suggest more nuclear, less coal" Bloomberg BusinessWeek, September 16, 2010.
  14. "TVA settles with N.C. over coal plant emissions" News Observer.com, April 14, 2011.
  15. "Blockbuster Agreement Takes 18 Dirty TVA Coal-Fired Power Plant Units Offline" Sierra Club, April 14, 2011.
  16. "TVA Phasing out Hundreds of Jobs at Coal Plants" ABC, April 14, 2011.
  17. "EPA Landmark Clean Air Act Settlement with TVA to Modernize Coal-Fired Power Plants and Promote Clean Energy Investments / State-of-the-art pollution controls and clean energy technology to provide up to $27 billion in annual health benefits" EPA, April 14, 2011.
  18. "Federal appeals court blocks ruling for fast-track emission controls at 4 TVA coal-fired plants" al.com, July 26, 2010.
  19. Angela Garrone, "TVA announces plans to idle Colbert Coal Plant units," Southern Alliance for Clean Energy blog, July 8, 2013
  20. Paul Gattis, "TVA to cut more than 150 employees at two north Alabama plants," All Alabama, November 14, 2013
  21. Steven Mufson, "Tennessee Valley Authority to close 8 coal-fired power plants," Washington Post, November 14, 2013
  22. "TVA Phasing out Hundreds of Jobs at Coal Plants" ABC, April 14, 2011.
  23. "Consent Decree," North Carolina v. TVA, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville, accessed April 20, 2011
  24. Ben Benton, [http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/may/13/TVA-natural-gas-pipeline-jackson-county-for-region/?print "Natural gas pipeline considered for tri-state region,"} Times Free Press, May 13, 2012.
  25. Paul Gattis, "TVA to cut more than 150 employees at two north Alabama plants," All Alabama, November 14, 2013
  26. Steven Mufson, "Tennessee Valley Authority to close 8 coal-fired power plants," Washington Post, November 14, 2013
  27. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  28. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010
  29. 29.0 29.1 Chloe White, "Dike bursts, floods 12 homes, spills into Watts Bar Lake," Knoxville News Sentinel, December 22, 2008.
  30. 30.0 30.1 "Ash spill: TVA triples amount of sludge released," Knoxville News Sentinel, December 26, 2008.
  31. "Lead and thallium taint water near TVA pond breach," Knoxville News Sentinel, December 26, 2008.
  32. "Tennessee sludge spill estimate grows to 1 billion gallons," CNN, December 26, 2008.
  33. "Exxon Valdez oil spill," Encyclopedia of the Earth, access 12/08
  34. Rebecca Ferrar, "The cleanup: Weeks, millions needed to fix impact from TVA pond breach," Knoxville News Sentinel, December 27, 2008.
  35. Coal waste
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  37. Greenpeace calls for criminal investigation into coal ash spill, Greenpeace, December 23, 2008.
  38. Kristin M. Hall, "Utility doubles estimate of Tennessee ash deluge," Associated Press, December 26, 2008.
  39. 39.0 39.1 "Landowners sue TVA for $165M over coal ash spill," Associated Press, December 30, 2008.
  40. Daniel Cusick, "New lawsuit announced over Tenn. ash spill," E&E News, January 6, 2009.
  41. Siobhan Hughes, "Environmentalists Challenge TVA Over Wastewater Permit ," Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2009.
  42. "Hundreds Beat Deadline for TVA Spill Lawsuits," Clean Skies, December 23, 2009.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Bill Poovey, "Trial starts on damage lawsuits in TVA ash spill" BusinessWeek, Sep. 15, 2011.
  44. "Federal ruling: TVA liable for coal ash spill," AP, August 23, 2012.
  45. "Alabama proposal would levy fee on dumped coal ash" Associated Press, March 5, 2010
  46. 46.0 46.1 "TVA sees growing 'pressure' for higher rates," Associated Press, April 4, 2009.
  47. "Utility Rejects Many Requests as It Buys Land Tainted by Tennessee Coal-Ash Spill," Associated Press, April 11, 2009.
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  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 Sue Sturgis, "Dumping in Dixie: TVA sends toxic coal ash to poor black communities in Georgia and Alabama" Facing South, May 12, 2009.
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  51. "Alabama DA reviewing options on coal ash decision," WTVM, July 7, 2009.
  52. Scott Barker, "Report: Four factors led to fly ash spill," Knoxville News Sentinel, June 26, 2009.
  53. "Fly ash pond too high, filled too fast," WBIR, June 25, 2009.
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  56. "TVA vows revamp after coal ash spill," UPI, July 22, 2009.
  57. "Coal-Ash Disaster Lingers in Tennessee as Regulation Fight Rages" Bloomberg, November 3, 2011.
  58. "Economy, ash spill mean no TVA executive bonuses," Associated Press, November 19, 2009.
  59. "Spilled coal ash problem spreading" Observer-Reporter.com March 6, 2010
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  68. "TVA plans dry coal ash storage for all sites," Associated Press, August 11, 2009.
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  71. "State disputes coal ash report" Ed Marcum, Knoxvillebiz.com, October 28, 2010.
  72. 72.0 72.1 72.2 72.3 "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash" Earthjustice & Sierra Club, February 1, 2011.
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  74. U.S. EPA Proposed Coal Ash Rule, 75 Fed. Reg. 35128
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  76. EarthJustice and Environmental Integrity Project, "Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites," May 2010
  77. "Coal ash waste tied to cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies" Alicia Bayer, Examiner.com, February 1, 2011.
  78. "Toxic Metals from Coal Ash Found in Groundwater at TVA Power Plants" Fair Warning, July 26, 2011.
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  84. 84.0 84.1 84.2 "TVA Names Executives To Lead Government Relations, Communications", Media Release, July 21, 2009.

External resources

External articles

Wikipedia also has an article on Tennessee Valley Authority. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.