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Lamar Alexander: We should now oppose TVA’s plan to buy power

Lamar Alexander • Updated Apr 4, 2017 at 4:15 PM

I recently spoke on the Senate floor in opposition to the possibility that the Tennessee Valley Authority might raise our electric bills and waste more than $1 billion buying electricity the region does not need by agreeing to buy power from the Clean Line Energy Partners’ proposed Plains and Eastern wind power transmission project.

The project Clean Line Energy Partners, a Texas-based company, is proposing would build giant, unsightly transmission towers from Oklahoma through Arkansas to Tennessee to carry comparatively more expensive, less-reliable electricity to Tennessee and other southeastern states.

Congress has a responsibility to conduct oversight of TVA’s decisions and also ensure that TVA is fulfilling its mission as defined by the TVA Act. 

Last December, I wrote to TVA saying, “there should not be a rush to approve any proposal from Clean Line Energy Partners. This is a big, expensive decision and should be left to the new board next year.”

A contract with Clean Line Energy Partners could cost TVA ratepayers more than $1 billion in the next 20-30 years, the typical length of such an agreement.

TVA would disregard its mission to provide low-cost power to the region if it were to contract for power the region doesn’t need, regardless of the source of electricity.

In recent years, according to TVA, power demand throughout the Tennessee Valley has declined.

In 2013, TVA began working with its customers to develop a long-term plan to meet the region’s power needs through 2033.

In 2015, when TVA completed its Integrated Resource Plan, that plan concluded “there is no immediate need for new baseload plants after Watts Bar Nuclear Unit 2 comes online and uprates are completed at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.”

As a result of this conclusion, because TVA did not need the power, TVA decided last year to sell the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Alabama.  

TVA is on a good path. Its leadership has made sound decisions that will benefit ratepayers and our region. To fulfill its mission to provide “safe, clean, reliable and affordable power for the region’s homes and businesses” it has opened the first nuclear power reactor in the 21st century. It is placing pollution control equipment on all its coal plants, and it is completing new natural gas plants.

TVA has done this while reducing its debt and reducing electric rates, which is good news for jobs and economic development in the region.

The point is TVA has concluded that it doesn’t need more power for the foreseeable future. Therefore, its board should resist obligating TVA’s ratepayers for any new large power contracts, much less contracts for comparatively expensive and unreliable wind power. 

Instead, TVA should continue to provide low-cost, reliable power to the region that boosts economic development throughout the Tennessee Valley.

Lamar Alexander represents Tennessee in the U.S. Senate.

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