Environmental groups urge Memphis utility to slow down decisions on energy future

By: - September 12, 2022 6:00 am
The Tennessee Valley Authority's Cumberland Fossil Plant. (Photo: Courtesy of TVA)

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Cumberland Fossil Plant. (Photo: Courtesy of TVA)

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy late last week urged the utility provider Memphis, Light, Gas and Water to allow the public more than 30 days to review the recently released list of energy companies that could potentially replace the Tennessee Valley Authority as Memphis’s main energy provider. 

The nonprofit group is among a growing number of activists urging the city’s utility provider to delay choosing a public power company, a decision that could impact the city for decades to come. 

On Sept.1, MLGW released a list of vendors to potentially replace an 80-year partnership with TVA, whose biggest customer is MLGW. 

Despite including 24 potential replacements, a consultant hired by MLGW concluded that TVA provided more energy savings compared to the vendor alternatives, and that a 20-year contract would provide the most cost reductions. 

After the MLGW board meeting, the public was given 30 days to review the vendors.  A presentation by TVA on Wednesday outlined the potential benefits of a long-term contract.

But 30 days isn’t enough time to review vendors, community activists and environmentalists said. 

Along with Protect Our Aquifer, the Memphis Community Against Pollution and others, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) urged MLGW to increase the public comment period to 60 days. 

“Without MLGW providing forthcoming and transparent answers to fundamental questions informing the analysis, the public is held back from submitting informed public comments in an effective way that actually helps inform any eventual decision in a manner necessitated by the enormity of the decision’s impacts,” said Stephen Smith, SACE executive director, in a press release.  

MLGW currently has a 5-year contract with TVA. Should MLGW staff move towards a 20-year, renewing contract, advocates are concerned that renewable energy options will be limited. 

TVA is working on “zero carbon” energy infrastructure by 2050 but has acknowledged that doing so would require increased production of natural gas. 

Community activists are also asking MLGW to take into consideration ongoing conflict between TVA and  low-income communities in Memphis, one of which is currently housing coal ash being relocated from a defunct coal plant. 

“MLGW’s decision on its future power supply is one of the most consequential single decisions that any community has made in the history of SACE’s work throughout the Southeast region over the past three decades. Billions of dollars, millions of tons of pollution, and most importantly hundreds of thousands of individuals’ quality of life are on the line with this decision,” Smith said. 

The MLGW board and Memphis City Council are required to approve a deal with TVA before signing off on the proposed contract extension.

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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.