Front Porch Blog

Tenn Tuesday: Haslam Can’t Keep Hands off the Family Business. Alexander and Corker To Support Critical Energy-Efficiency Legislation? Squirrel!

Haslam Dragged Down by Coal Ties, TVA All Over the Place, Critical Energy Savings Votes in the U.S. Senate as early as this week.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s troubles continue to be front and center in the national media, with the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and The Tennessean reporting on Governor Haslam failure to meet his recusal pledge to stay away from the family business, which understandably has serious trouble avoiding the coal industry advocates on its own board of directors.

In May, Tom Ingram told NewsChannel5 Investigates that his firm had not registered with the state that it lobbied for a coal [company] over a three year period because of an “inadvertent oversight.”

The coal company wants to mine on a state wildlife area.

Channel 5 has been doing fantastic work on Governor Haslam’s direct ties to the coal industry, and is finding more questions than answers.

Haslam’s connections to those who would surface mine on our public lands have angered Tennesseans from all walks of life.

Steve Gill, who is the head of Gill Media and a former conservative radio host, said the whole situation looks bad.

“The reason you have these reporting regulations in place is so that everybody will know what side of the game you’re playing on,” said Gill.

“If Republicans were looking at a Democrat governor doing the same sort of things we’ve seen with the private, under the table hiring of Tom Ingram, they’d be pitching a hissy fit,” Gill said.

Ingram declined our request for an interview or to even speak on the phone. His firm sent a letter in response to our questions.

Moving on, as soon as this week, but certainly sometime before Congress mercifully takes their August recess, we expect the Senate to vote on the Energy Savings Act of 2013, otherwise known as Shaheen-Portman (S. 761). This bipartisan legislation had broad support coming out of the Senate Energy Committee by a vote of 19-3.

Appalachian Voices strongly supports this legislation for Tennessee, Appalachia and the Southeast. We believe that the bill should be kept relatively clean on the floor, however, it could be strengthened by adding the following amendments.

  • Non-Profit Energy Efficiency Act (S. 717 – Klobuchar (D)/Hoeven (R))
  • This amendment would extend many important incentives to non-profits who own their buildings, including churches, to make energy-efficient retrofits

  • The Residential Energy Savings Act (S. 1200 – Sanders (D)/Wyden(D))
  • This amendment would amend the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to promote energy efficiency and energy savings in residential buildings by creating a federal loan program available to states and tribes for the purpose of establishing or expanding programs that provide financing for residential energy efficiency upgrades.

  • The State Energy Race to the Top Initiative Act (S. 1218 – Warner (D)/Manchin (D))
  • This amendment would establish an initiative of the same name to assist state energy policy innovation to promote the goal of doubling electric thermal energy productivity (efficiency) by 2030.

Tennessee has a tremendous amount to gain in energy efficiency, from our industry, to our residences, to our rural electric cooperatives particularly in light of the fact that TVA’s industrial customers are raising serious issues about the supposedly high cost of their electricity rates.

We need [TVA] to operate like businesses did during the recession, and get streamlined,” Huffman said. “We need them to generate clean electricity as economically as possible.

TVA hasn’t always been perfect when it comes to their power choices. Most recently, TVA chose to extend the life of a dinosaur coal plant in Gallatin rather than investing in cost-effective, rate-lowering, job-creating energy efficiency.

The Energy Savings Act (S. 761) listed above, mostly goes about making changes in the industrial and manufacturing sector, ensuring greater cost savings for those entities. Tennessee senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander could do TVA an enormous favor by championing the Shaheen-Portman legislation. The industrial sector is certainly working hard to get changes at TVA, and may be making some progress.

As a result of pressure from his group and the TVIC, “We feel TVA has listened and may be trying to do something about it,” he said. “But it’s not going to happen overnight, and that’s a problem. Electricity is a cost that can drive people to make decisions, and our companies can shut down a plant in a month and be gone.

Huffman said his group also believes TVA has wasted money in its nuclear program, pointing to multibillion-dollar facilities such as ones in Hartsville in Tennessee and Bellefonte in north Alabama that were never completed and have been sitting unfinished or abandoned for years.

Meanwhile, near record rainfalls are making TVA’s summer energy rates lower. In all, we’ve recieved a remarkable 138 percent of normal precipitation levels through the first half of the year.

As a result, TVA’s fuel portion of its electric rates will be 10 percent less this year during July, traditionally the hottest and most expensive month for the utility’s customers.

TVA spokesman Scott Brooks told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the rain has created a “highly unusual” situation for July because historically fuel costs go up with rising demand during summer months.

TVA has made plans to idle the last of the burners of the Colbert coal plant, per the 2011 consent decree.

Despite the announcement that TVA will allow for more solar investments begining August 1, The Tennessean puts its weight behind restructuring TVA’s Green Power Providers program.

The current structure of the Green Power Providers and Solar Solutions Initiative poses a significant and unnecessary threat to Tennessee’s solar industry. TVA has placed severe restraints on the market by limiting individual system sizes as well as limiting the program caps. These market constraints hinder private investment in the region. Remember, these solar plants are paid for by private businesses and individuals, not TVA. This creates jobs in the valley and brings many benefits to TVA, businesses and ratepayers.

Tell TVA that you support more solar energy.

This all happens as environmental concerns about TVA continuing to operate the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant were largely dismissed, even while TVA’s own engineers warned that the largest nuclear plant in Alabama is operating without a functioning, failsafe system

The engineer and regulators have warned problems at Browns Ferry reported by regulators have included that a cooling pump didn’t work and cooling lines sat blocked and unnoticed for years.

A TVA engineer, Joni Johnson, told AL.com mechanical and managerial shortcomings at the nuclear plant on the Tennessee River in Limestone County could have led to a meltdown.

Johnson says she’s speaking out to restore the focus on safety at the plant. The TVA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have declined to discuss what they called an ongoing investigation.

Think that you can’t make a big difference in the world? Well, I know one little bird seed thief that might disagree with that.

Winchester Utilities General Manager Roger Caldwell stated Wednesday’s power outage occurred around 7:10 a.m. at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) substation in Decherd.
According to Caldwell, a little furry creature is what caused electricity to go out in Winchester and other parts of the county.

“A squirrel got into the main line of the transformer that feeds Winchester Utilities,” he said. “All of our customers were affected, as well as part of Duck River down toward Belvidere and Huntland.

The U.S. Department of Energy is putting their money where their mouth is, working to lead by example by issuing stronger standards for federal building.

And finally, finally, Bike Chattanooga is introducing jetpack rentals. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

Action of the Day

Ask Senator Lamar Alexander to confirm Gina McCarthy for EPA Administrator.

Video of the Day

I’m really excited about an upcoming documentary called “Appalachia 2050,” which “[tries] to find some level of consensus about what sort of future Appalachians envision for themselves and what steps they need to take to get there.”

Here is a teaser trailers.

Link of the Day

Because sitting at a computer makes me yearn for the wild outdoors, learn where you can watch wildlife at Tennessee’s Watachable Wildlife. While you’re at it, submit your own photography of Tennessee wildlife.

Song of the Day

Looks like Tennessee is getting a new music festival in the woods! Check out the “Fly Free Festival” coming this fall.

Here is Moon Taxi performing their song “Gunflower.”

“Tennessee, I swear you got the best of me.”

Update
Appalachia 2050 Director Ralph B. Davis leaves us the link for the “full-length” Appalachia 2050 video in the comments. Thanks Ralph, and best of luck with the project. We hope you’ll keep us posted on your progress.

Appalachia 2050 Movie

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. Thank you for the shout-out, concerning my project, “Appalachia 2050.” I just wanted to let you know that the full video sort of is ready. I say “sort of” because I was under a deadline to complete it for my master’s thesis, but at the same time, I plan to revisit it at some point in the future to add additional material. I especially want to obtain more interviews with a broader range of people. In some respects, “Appalachia 2050” might always be a “work in progress.” Or I might allow this video to stand on its own, as sort of an introduction, and develop it further as a series of videos, each dedicated to a particular topic. I suppose it depends on how much interest there is. Anyway, I do hope you will check out the full video, streaming online for free at http://www.ralphbdavis.com/appalachia2050. And, again, thank you for mentioning it, not because I need the publicity, but because I believe the only way to solve our region’s problems is for all of its people to come together to begin discussing them.

  2. jw says:

    Ralph ,

    Thanks so much for your comment, and most of all for your great work on behalf of our region. I’ve added the link to the full video up in the original post, and I really hope everyone will go watch it. I’m looking forward to catching it myself this evening.

    We agree that it is critical to look forward and to reach across all political, cultural, professional, and socio-economic boundaries to work together to build a better future for our region. We’ve begun to work a lot more directly not on just stopping the bad stuff – such as rampant mountaintop removal and de-regulated coal ash – but to also add new pieces to the economy through our advocacy at the state and federal level for energy efficiency legislation. Just this year, we’ve begun our own Energy Savings Program, lead by Rory McIlmoil (rory@appvoices.org), that will help energy efficiency implementation across Appalachia and the southeast.

    Its incredibly important work, and we thank you for all you do for our mountains and mountain people.

    peace,
    JW

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