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Battle continues over energy conservation, climate and TVA

EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT

By: Frances Lamberts

A recent Pen Points cartoon shows a home on fire, flames and heavy smoke engulfing it while the homeowners are relaxing in lawn chairs nearby. Its mail box indicating the address as “Climate Change,” the owner casually remarks that “somebody should maybe do some- thing about that.”

In Ukraine on that day, Europe’s largest nuclear-energy plant also was on fire, shelled by Russia in its war against that country and amid fears of a potentially Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster should the containment walls be breached and electric power off-grounds be unavailable to cool its reactors. In the U.S., with Russia selling significant amounts of the climate-heating fossil sources to western countries, there were calls to re-expand its production here, not to reduce energy consumption.

Yet by lowering consumption we all — as citizens, businesses and government across all levels — can do much more toward cutting carbon emissions and fighting climate change while also reducing costs.

A recent oversight inquiry from a congressional committee stated concern that current practices of our utility – the Tennessee Valley Authority – may not meet the requirements of its authorizing legislation that address such issues as energy conservation and efficiency.

In the previous century, TVA had been a leader in bringing modern electric pow- er to this region, as also in emphasizing and funding efficiency in its use. As its one-time chairman David S. Freeman noted in a 2007 book, the agency “implemented a conservation program that was much cheaper on all fronts” than a future built on nuclear power and an “automatic pilot” of ever more generation and electricity consumption.

But by 2019, as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy documented in its scorecard, Tennessee’s was nearly 70 percent lower than the high-rank- ing states’ rating in efficiency efforts, largely reflecting the TVA having cut efficiency spending by almost two-thirds and eliminating its customer incentives programs. In 2020, ACEEE found annual efficiency savings among the major utilities to be dozens of times higher on average than for the TVA and as the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy recently reported, our neighboring south- east utility, Duke Energy, “achieved 36 times the amount of [efficiency] savings” as the TVA.

Surely, in climate-crisis times a “may- be” to act on energy consumption is inappropriate. Henry Thoreau’s long-ago advice must now be applied – “What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

And the Congress should make sure that TVA does much better of late than it has done.