Front Porch Blog

Tennessee Tuesday: Tourist Motorcade #1 Comes to Town! Efficiency Works!

Welcome to Tennessee Tuesday! Today Tennessee continues to shine as the President and his crew come to Chattanooga to tout jobs and economic growth, unarmed armadas roam the Cumberland River in search of a world free from coal-pollution, groups like “Thrive 2055” highlight statewide watershed-based economic planning initiatives, and Rhea County prepares to improve the standard of living in…China.

Let’s start this week’s edition of Tennessee Tuesday with some positive news. Tennessee, once again is getting national plaudits for our wonderful outdoor resources (duh), making Men’s Journal’s “50 Great Places to Visit this Summer”, highlighting the reasons that tourism is a $15 billion industry in our state.

In 1969, Chattanooga’s industrial smelters belched so much smog the city was ranked as having the country’s worst air pollution. Forty years later, the smoke has cleared to reveal world-class climbing, Class IV kayaking, and nearly 100 miles of mountain-bike trails — all within 30 minutes of downtown. Treat it like a hub: Over a weekend, you can climb Sunset Rock, paddle the Ocoee River’s middle-section rapids, and bike the new 10-mile section of Stringer’s Ridge (located entirely within city limits). Cap it off with pints at downtown’s Boathouse raw bar – reachable along the river by standup paddleboard.

And, you’ve probably heard that we’ve got an especially noteworthy tourist visiting today. President Obama is traveling to Chattanooga, inciting local businesses to hilariously take to Twitter to get a bit of that Obama bump. Also, as you may have expected, OPINIONS!! The President will deliver a speech on the middle class today at 1:30 EST from the Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga, which you can follow here. Amazon announced that they are adding thousands of new jobs nationally, although labor advocates have been critical of the kinds of jobs Amazon creates in the past.

TVA and Energy
A great Nashvillian writer, “SouthernBeale,” has started a discussion on nationalizing the power grid that identifies some of TVA’s missteps and looks towards solutions — identifying rooftop solar as the most viable way forward (and the biggest threat to large centralized utilities like TVA.) It doesn’t take an expert to look at the utility’s cap on the Green Power Providers program to see that TVA isn’t doing nearly as much as it could to help the solar industry.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave TVA’s Browns Ferry Plant the worst rating in the country. Their nuclear power chief is getting a $552,000 bonus just to leave, and TVA is currently nearing $30 billion in debt. So, that math isn’t too complicated either.

All this time, while we’re wasting money on old nukes, old coal, and old executives, Palo Alto, Calif., — a city the size of Jackson, Tenn. (our 7th most populated) — is switching to 100% renewables, at a ratepayer cost of about $3/year.

Fortunately for Palo Alto residents, they will have much less power to generate to begin with, thanks to California’s decades-long investment in energy efficiency, which is paying huge dividends to Golden Staters.

Efficiency’s huge benefits

California’s energy efficiency efforts over the past several decades have helped:

  • Save residents and businesses more than $65 billion
  • Make household electric bills 25 percent lower than the national average
  • Create a more productive economy, generating twice as much economic output for every kilowatt-hour consumed compared to the rest of the country
  • Decrease utility bills for millions of low-income households
  • Cut as much climate-warming carbon pollution as is spewed from 5 million cars annually

Tennessee is by no means the worst at energy efficiency (anymore), highlighted by folks like the Clinton Utilities Board – one of a few recipients of an energy efficiency grant from the state:

The Clinton Utilities Board has received a $200,000 Clean Tennessee Energy Grant to renovate its wastewater treatment plant.

CUB was one of 19 recipients receiving $2.1 million for projects that promote energy efficiency, benefit the environment and help save money, Tennessee officials said this month… “This project will enhance the actual lighting, save electricity, make the buildings more energy efficient and reduce electric energy usage by approximately 250,000 kilowatt-hours per year,” TDEC said. “This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 147 passenger vehicles, carbon dioxide emissions from 78,998 gallons of gasoline consumed, and carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity use of 105 homes for one year.”

If you can identify somebody who loses in that scenario, you’ve also got a coal plant you’d like to sell me. Its a win-win-win for our people, for our industries and businesses, and for our planet.

Michael Davidson has a really interesting piece over at the Energy Collective about the future of coal in China.

This coal asset build-up is accelerating fossil infrastructure lock-in, and has huge long-term implications for diversifying China’s power mix. The stranded costs of a small, inefficient plant’s early retirement may be large but still tolerable. Retiring a 600 megawatt, state-of-the-art plant before it’s economic lifetime comes at a much steeper price. As a result, the new generation of modern coal plants built in recent years may still be operating in 2050.

That sounds like bad news for our friends in Rhea County who have mines moving into their communities from companies that plan to send all that coal to China.

…[T]his coal never was intended to be marketed in the U.S.

“The people in China and India are trying to improve their standard of living,” Fortner said. “They will buy this coal to make steel there.”

“This coal” is metallurgical coal. It is used primarily to make coke — a hot-burning fuel for steel mills. The coal tar that once lined Chattanooga Creek and still pollutes many Chattanooga sites was a byproduct of burning such coal to make coke for steel mills.

I’m not sure that the residents of Rhea County, with a poverty rate 20% higher than the national average, will be thrilled to be sending their resources overseas to improve the standard of living of folks in China.

Statewide Planning Initiatives
I’m very intrigued recently by some of the planning initiatives taking place in the state. Tennessee Tech is joining an influential group of stakeholders to look at one such initiative on the Obed River Watershed.

Thanks to funding from the Tennessee Healthy Watershed Initiative — which is led by The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the West Tennessee River Basin Authority — several new projects are being launched across the state to focus on improving and protecting watersheds through innovation and community-based initiatives.

One such project is centered in the Obed Watershed, encompassing Cumberland, Morgan and Fentress counties, and is being led by Tennessee Tech University’s Center for the Management, Utilization and Protection of Water Resources, which is a Center of Excellence in Water Resources. The CMUPWR is working with the city of Crossville, the National Park Service and the Obed Watershed Community Association.

Similar efforts are taking place at the Cumberland River Compact. The Tennessean did a recent article on the CRC and their efforts to protect the 18,000 square mile Cumberland River Basin.

Meanwhile, a really talented and diverse group of folks are getting together in a project called “Thrive 2055, which is roughly based on the Tennessee River Basin, and the counties in the greater Chattanooga area.

The objective of the three-year process is to identify regional values and goals along with a consensus on strategies that can be implemented for the long-term prosperity of the region.

Appalachian Voices is a proud member of the Thrive 2055 “Working Landscapes” group, and being born and raised in this area myself, I am especially excited to see how the Thrive 2055 work develops.

Are there other planning initiatives across the state that you are interested in? Let us know in the comments!

Song of the Week
“A Girl Named Tennessee” by Need to Breathe

As always, feel free to leave your musical recommendations in the comments below, and have a great week!

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.

  1. Beth Randolph Fadelle says:

    Johnny Cash – Tennessee Flat Top Box


    Roseanne Cash’s version of Tennessee Flat Top Box + tribute to her dad

    *both versions are un-missable! (is that a word?)

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