Federal utility seeks proposals for big carbon-free push

The nation’s largest utility is seeking proposals for what would be one of the biggest recent shifts to adding carbon-free electricity to the United States, presenting a mix of possibilities from solar to nuclear on Tuesday. .

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s request for proposals seeks up to 5,000 megawatts of carbon-free power by 2029. It’s the first known request from nuclear industry experts that combines new nuclear technologies with wind and solar.

The application also includes other options, such as hydroelectric, geothermal and battery energy storage systems. The Nuclear Energy Institute said while this is a first, other utilities are looking at this type of future and the trade association expects to see a steady increase in new purchases. nuclear power like this.

The move is juxtaposed with the federal utility’s persistent proposal to shut down the massive Cumberland Fossil coal plant in Tennessee and replace it with natural gas, which would put the utility out of step with the goal of the administration of President Joe Biden from carbon pollution. free energy sector by 2035. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently expressed concerns about this, urging TVA to consider other options. TVA’s final decision is expected in the coming months.

The new request for proposals would be one of the largest recent carbon-free energy additions in the country. In California, regulators in February approved a plan for an additional 25,500 megawatts of renewable energy and 15,000 megawatts of new battery storage resources by 2032.

Proposals for the TVA plan must be submitted by October 19, with selected projects to be announced in spring 2023. They do not need to be located in the TVA service area, which includes Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states. Don Moul, TVA’s chief operating officer, said any nuclear power for the proposal would draw on existing plants, calling the initiative a tool for “short-term” additions to its portfolio.

“We opened the door not only to renewable energy – solar, wind, battery storage – but we are also looking at any other carbon-free source,” Moul told The Associated Press. “It could be the existing nuclear. It could be the existing hydroelectricity. Anything that can be delivered to our service territory at a price, and with the level of reliability that meets our needs, is fair game. »

Utility officials already plan to add 10,000 megawatts of solar power to its system by 2035. They have partnered on projects with several high-profile industrial customers who want their operations tied to renewables. They have also focused on helping the region transition from carbon-emitting gas vehicles to electric vehicles, with efforts to establish charging stations, switch its workforce fleet to electric and teaming up on economic development to bring big electric vehicle projects to the region.

Still, concerns have grown over TVA’s timeline to reduce air emissions that cause climate change. TVA has set itself the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2035, compared to 2005 levels. TVA CEO Jeff Lyash has stated that TVA will not be able to achieve the 100% reduction target without technological advances in energy storage, carbon capture and small modular nuclear reactors, aiming for 80% instead. The utility has its own ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

The dispute over TVA’s schedule has been at the center of its plan to convert the Cumberland Fossil Generating Station, its largest coal-fired plant at 2,470 megawatts, into a natural gas plant. TVA described natural gas as a bridge to more renewables.

An environmental lawyer said Tuesday that if TVA is serious about leadership in clean energy, it must drop plans for natural gas plants.

“We are encouraged to see TVA explore affordable and available carbon-free energy, but the fact remains that TVA has also proposed the country’s largest investment in new fossil fuel power plants and pipelines, to the tune of billions of dollars. dollars,” said Amanda Garcia. , Tennessee director for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Late last month, the Environmental Protection Agency expressed concern during a public comment period that the preference to replace coal with gas “has not considered mitigation options important and available to reduce the impacts of (greenhouse gas) emissions”. He suggested considering running the plant at least in part on ‘clean hydrogen’, installing additional carbon capture equipment at the plant, or building an associated smaller natural gas plant. renewable energy, energy efficiency measures, energy storage or other options.

The EPA added that TVA had not fully disclosed the greenhouse gas impact for the available options, nor the underlying modeling and assumptions for those alternatives.

“The EPA believes it is essential that TVA improve the proposed action and (the Environmental Impact Statement) because of the urgency of the climate crisis,” the EPA wrote. “Overlooked options for TVA to take meaningful and cost-effective action to reduce GHGs can help align TVA action with science-driven policy goals.”

Moul said TVA will evaluate comments from the EPA and others and incorporate them into the utility’s decision-making process.


Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report. Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee.

Lynn A. Saleh