Study shows a TVA change to solar and wind energy would cut costs to ratepayers
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Norris Dam in Anderson County (Photo: TVA website)
The Tennessee Valley Authority could save ratepayers billions of dollars by investing in solar and wind energy sources, according to a study released this week.
A study by Synapse Energy Economics commissioned by the Sierra Club and made public this week shows TVA could save its ratepayers nearly $10 billion in energy costs by abandoning its current plans to gradually shift from coal to natural gas as an energy source and instead invest in solar and wind.
“TVA is the sixth largest owner of electric generating capacity in the country and is one of many to have publicly committed to greenhouse gas emission reductions,” the report stated. “The results of this analysis show that TVA can decarbonize its current resource portfolio at a faster rate at a lower cost to customers while also maintaining the reliability of the system.”
The analysis by Synapse, a consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass., that specializes in energy research, shows TVA’s current plan to tackle climate-warming carbon emissions through the replacement of coal-fired power plants with natural gas facilities would cost ratepayers $78.2 billion over a 20-year period.
If TVA instead replaces coal-fired power plants with a “portfolio” of cleaner energy sources, including solar and wind, and free or low-cost weatherization programs, the 20-year cost would be $68.7 billion, a cost savings of 12 percent, the analysis concluded.
“The savings that result from the Clean Portfolio Replacement scenario support a full portfolio approach to decarbonization and illustrate the value that TVA could provide to customers through investments in solar, storage, wind, and energy efficiency,” the report stated.
TVA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the study.
TVA is the nation’s largest public power provider. The utility provides electricity to 153 local power companies serving 10 million residents in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states as well as 57 large industrial and government installations, according to its website.
The utility currently operates five coal-fired plants, four of which are located in Tennessee. The Biden administration is pushing operators of coal-fired plants nationwide to eliminate carbon emissions by 2035.
‘Business as usual’
TVA last year announced plans to cut its carbon emissions by as much as 80% by 2035 through, in large part, the gradual replacement of its coal-fired plants with natural gas facilities. Natural gas emits as much as 60 percent less carbon dioxide than a typical coal-fired plant, but it is still a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming.
The Synapse study compared TVA’s announced plan — dubbed “business as usual” in the report — with two alternatives, one that includes only solar and solar storage as a replacement energy source and one that adds wind to the mix as an energy source and energy efficiency through weatherization programs.
The study concluded both alternatives provide savings for ratepayers when compared to the proposed TVA plan, while still providing reliable energy production for the utility’s customers.
“Overall, the Solar/Storage Replacement scenario — which prioritizes new solar and storage instead of gas builds — costs $6.4 billion less than the (business as usual) scenario,” the report stated. “By contrast, the increased energy efficiency investment and the addition of candidate wind resources in the Clean Portfolio Replacement scenario results in approximately $9.4 billion in savings compared to the (business as usual) scenario.”
TVA’s plan to cut carbon emissions through the increased use of natural gas has drawn criticism from Nashville Mayor John Cooper, the Nashville Electric Service and a slew of environmental advocacy groups, including the Sierra Club.
TVA’s critics contend the utility has largely ignored clean energy sources in its decision-making. Memphis is currently seeking an alternative to TVA as a power provider, in part, because of the utility’s reluctancel to increase the use of wind and solar.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.