Front Porch Blog

Tenn. Tuesday: TVA’s Nuclear Nuisance

Welcome to Tennessee Tuesday! We’ve been searching across the state, patrolling the web and scouring our inboxes (as has President Obama, of course) in order to bring you the latest on the state-est that’s the greatest! Let’s get right to it.

First of all, we’ve seen a brief clip from this morning on Fox News on the opposition to mountaintop removal in Tennessee. The controversial practice of mountaintop removal has all the me’s, we’s, and them’s across the state up in arms. A longer piece is scheduled to air this evening, and we’ll be on the lookout for that.

Now, besides the fact that most of our coal companies are owned out-of-state, we’ve gone over the fact that TVA didn’t use any Tennessee coal last year, and that a weakening Central Appalachian coal market is increasingly reliant on sending its product overseas. The New York Times recently did an excellent piece on what more coal exports could mean for American coal, export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and impoverished extraction communities. According to the NYT piece:

Last year, American coal exports set a record of 125 million tons in sales, roughly double the volume in 2009, with most of that going to Europe. Exports fell this spring because of slower Chinese demand for steelmaking coal. But energy experts say the big potential market for American coal remains in Asia, and several proposed Pacific Northwest export terminals would have the capacity to nearly double current exports.

125 million tons in exports last year! That’s more coal than the amount mined in West Virginia and Tennessee combined. And — in what is apparently the new standard for the United State’s coal industry — it’s “better than something happening in China®.”

Coal experts say the [Powder River Basin] could export 10 times what it does today if the Pacific Northwest terminals were approved. And industry executives insist that the basin’s low-sulfur coal is far cleaner than much of the coal burned in Chinese and other Asian cities.

Coal has walked the Crow Nation of Montana back into the same impoverished, dead-end corner that much of Appalachia finds itself in, and the political leaders are saying all the same things. For some reason, hearing this type of rhetoric coming from elsewhere in the country, rather than from some Appalachian elected official for the millionth time, really drives home how absolutely insane it sounds to continue to rely solely on the production of a fossil fuel at the expense of all short- and long-term well-being.

The Crow Nation chairman, Darrin Old Coyote, insisted that coal was a gift to his community that goes back to the tribe’s creation story. “Coal is life,” he said. “It feeds families and pays the bills.”

Of course, we all know the truth — coal is death. Not to mention that there is a good, scientific, peer-reviewed mountain of data indicating that is not only is coal not “life,” but that coal is in fact the enemy of life.

Our very own Manchester, Tenn., was ground zero of clean energy capitalism this week. The rural-utopia turns grooving urban musicopolis for a week every June, provided Bonnaroovians with 20 percent of their energy from solar power. The ability to meet twenty percent of demand with renewables is expected in rural Colorado by 2020 as Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill that will double the amount of renewable energy by that year. As the President of Conservation Colorado says, “In the end, this will be better for consumers, offering more predictable costs than old fossil fuels.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, fresh off the news that their fossil plants are facing layoffs, have had a similar run of bad news from the nuclear projects. After TVA’s Sequoyah and Watts Bar plants were named among the worst in the nation for whistleblower complaints, the future “re-animation” of the Bellefonte nuclear plant looks in serious jeopardy, as TVA announced that it will cut more than 500 jobs and significant funds for the project. U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is “is disappointed, and it’s back to the board for TVA’s planners.

According to TVA’s senior vice president, Mike Skaggs, milder winters, the availability and price of natural gas and the effects of a slower economy have all affected TVA’s power sales. Skaggs said TVA is working on a new integrated resource plan which evaluates the utility’s power generation assets and how they will be used or expanded to meet future electricity needs.

Our friends at the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League highlight a disturbing statistic. Citizens who live near Browns Ferry nuclear plant have significantly higher death rates than their non-nuclearized Tennessee brethren. According to a BREDL press release:

“The study found potential links between radioactive emissions from Browns Ferry and adverse health effects in seven counties near and downwind of the plant.

Yikes.

Meanwhile, in uranium country, energy efficiency is increasingly the name of the game. In fact, the state just awarded the Oak Ridge Municipal Center $200,000 for energy savings upgrades. Nice work guys!

In other good news, Tennessee is working with the U.S. Department of Energy on a pretty cool electric car project, which sounds awesome to me since it only costs about 97 cents per gallon to get around in one!

Video of the Week

This old newsreel footage from 1933 talks about the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority. See anything that looks familiar?

Image of the Week
Pre-TVA, Chattanooga as Atlantis in a 58-foot flood. Seen here from Lookout Mountain:

That is for this week! Let us know what you’re seeing in the comments, and be safe out there in this weather.

Raised on the banks of the Tennessee River, JW's work to create progress in his home state and throughout Appalachia has been featured on the Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Kos and Grist. He served first as Appalachian Voices’ Legislative Associate and then Tennessee director until leaving to pursue a career in medicine in 2012.

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2 COMMENTS
  1. Rick Phelps says:

    Great Job JW,

    Love the focus on TN and the facts about TVA ! Thanks for your continuing fine work .

    Regards, Rick

  2. jw says:

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for the note!

    Everyone should check out Rick’s “TNergy” blog here: http://tnergyblog.blogspot.com/

    Loved your piece on building a better Chattanooga: http://tnergyblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/greenbuilding-better-chattanooga.html

    Are you involved with the Thrive 2055 folks?

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