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TVA addresses rolling blackouts during frigid Christmas weekend


A new TVA board majority picked by President Joe Biden for the nation's largest public utility has announced a new study of clean energy adoption opportunities throughout the region's economy. The Tennessee Valley Authority touted plans for the study with the University of Tennessee's Baker Center for Public Policy during its board meeting in Florence, Alabama.

The blackouts during the arctic Christmas weekend of late 2022 also came up.

The Center for Biological Diversity's Energy Justice program, said in an emailed statement that "TVA needs to build a just, 100% renewable system" adding that new board members have "an enormous responsibility." The group also mentioned failures in coal and gas plants from a winter storm just before Christmas last year that forced TVA to resort to rolling blackouts. The breakdowns are the subject of multiple reviews.

The TVA said close to seven thousand megawatts of power generation were lost as harsh freezing conditions proved to be "beyond the capabilities of existing heat trace and insulation to protect equipment exposed to the elements." Other utilities couldn't help supply TVA with extra power because many were affected by the storm as well, Moul said. Both units at Cumberland went down for the entirety of the frigid conditions due to frozen implementation lines, he said. Many of the simple cycle and combined cycle gas plants were affected, but most of those were brought back online during the cold, Moul said. Even though TVA was able to put 1,000 megawatts back online after the initial outages, TVA decided to implement rolling blackouts on a second day to keep its power system stable.

The TVA study on pursuing cleaner sources of energy for electricity production follows a drumbeat of concerns that the federal utility is not meeting the Biden administration's own power sector climate change goals. TVA expects the review to last 18 months. Environmental and renewable energy advocates are closely watching the board's switch to a Biden-selected majority. The study will look at the electric power supply, in addition to other areas of the economy, for ways to reduce carbon pollution that spurs climate change. TVA expects the review to last 18 months. Environmental and renewable energy advocates are closely watching the board's switch to a Biden-selected majority. The transition follows the federal utility's decision to stick with a fossil fuel — gas — to replace some of the generation from the aging coal-burning Cumberland Fossil Plant in Tennessee, which is slated to shut down. Those advocates highly criticized the choice, as did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which ultimately declined to challenge the plan all the way to a White House council. The utility has replaced coal units with gas previously, and it's considering that option again at another aging coal plant in Tennessee. Currently, TVA's generation capacity of more than 33,700 megawatts includes 39% nuclear, 19% coal, 26% natural gas and 11% hydro. Wind and solar make up 3%, while energy efficiency programs amount to 1%, according to the utility's website.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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