Environmental groups urge MGLW to vote down new TVA contract

By: - November 2, 2022 11:33 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)

Environmental groups and Memphis community activists continue to urge the city’s utility provider against signing a “never-ending contract” with the Tennessee Valley Authority, adding that TVA’s promise to provide better service stands in contrast with their past treatment of Memphis customers. 

In September, the utility provider Memphis Gas Light and Water announced that it will likely continue using TVA as an energy provider,  after months deliberating on whether to renew a contract. MLGW officials also announced intentions to sign a 20-year contract with TVA due to incentives and promises of lower costs to customers. 

But community activists, who dubbed the proposal as a “never-ending contract,” criticized the plan, citing the TVA’s documented treatment of low-income communities and neglected appearance of facilities within the city.

TVA Chief Executive Officer Jeff Lyash promised the MLGW board that if they committed to a long-term contract, TVA would improve its admittedly neglected presence in Memphis by dedicating TVA staff in Memphis to energy-burden reduction. 

Justin Pearson of Memphis Against Pollution. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Justin Pearson of Memphis Against Pollution. (Photo: John Partipilo)

After a public-comment period, which was extended from the original 30 days to 60 days, activists attended MLGW’s Wednesday board meeting to urge board members to vote against the contract, in anticipation of a Nov. 16 vote. 

“This is the most attention we’ve gotten from TVA in years, but there’s a difference in getting attention and getting people to change behaviors,” said Justin J. Pearson, a community activist and co-founder of Memphis Community Against Pollution.

“But the behavior of the TVA has not changed in such a way that would be beneficial to all of the customers here,” he added. 

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy have been critical of TVA’s plans to expand its natural gas production as a way to reach “zero carbon” energy infrastructure by 2050. 

Community leaders also criticized TVA’s offer to provide Memphis with lower costs after customers saw higher monthly bills this summer. MLGW sent out notice to Memphis customers that TVA had increased pricing due after the war in Ukraine caused natural gas rates to rise. 

This proved that natural gas was a volatile energy source, they said. 

“This will make energy burdens worse in communities. Our customers are already struggling to pay their bills,” said Pearl Walker, the environmental climate and justice chair for the Memphis chapter of the NAACP.  

Leaders with Protect Our Aquifer, MCAP and others instead urged the MLGW board to continue five-year contracts  with TVA, which would allow Memphis to retain its ability to negotiate for better deals.

Activists also pointed out that the current proposed contract allows TVA to opt out of obligations to maintain infrastructure should MLGW leave.

“A generation from now will say, yes, let’s stop having TVA take care of the transmission lines because we found a better deal. It traps us, indefinitely, with them. And they’re saying they’re going to be punitive if you ever did say you were going to leave. This is not a deal you would ever sign for your business or for your family. Please don’t sign it for our city,” said Pearson. 

Once the MLGW board votes, the final decision goes to the Memphis City Council for final approval.

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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.