Wednesday, September 29, 2010

TVA rated 'fair' on clean air, renewable energy

One more from the Tennessean...

TVA rated 'fair' on clean air, renewable energy
Utility says it will turn things around

TVA was rated "fair" when it comes to clean air and renewable energy in an environmental performance report by its Office of Inspector General.

The public power producer might have done more poorly, except for its hydroelectric production.

Still, the electricity generated from water flowing through turbines is dependent on rain and might not be considered "renewable" under proposals in Washington that could require a specific amount of alternative energy sources of utilities, according to the report.

The report also noted that the Tennessee Valley Authority "produces a large amount of air pollutants," but said advances have been made and the contaminants are in the nature of its business because it relies heavily on coal-fired plants.

TVA officials have said they are turning things around.

'Room for improvement'

"TVA believes there is always room for improvement in the work that we do, and the environmental performance inspection performed by the Inspector General only helps clarify where changes can be made," said a statement about the report provided by TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci.

"TVA appreciates their work and will use their findings to improve our performance."

TVA, the nation's largest public power provider, produces about 60 percent of its electricity by burning coal. About 30 percent comes from nuclear power, and about 9 percent from hydroelectric power.

The rest comes from natural gas, solar, wind and other alternative power sources.

Environmentalists for decades have pressed TVA to encourage energy efficiency and conservation and use more renewable energy sources.

Tennessee has consistently been one of the top three states - and often the top - in per-capita residential consumption of electricity.

After repeated national studies on energy waste and a growing focus nationwide on clean air and energy independence, TVA this summer hired an energy-efficiency expert to help shift its course.

The report said TVA performs "in the middle of the pack compared to its peers with respect to measures such as number of 'reportable environmental events,' amount of environmental fines, generation of low-level radioactive waste, and office materials recycled.

"However, TVA lags other utilities in the removal of polychlorinated biphenyl equipment," it said.

PCBs, which are human-made chlorinated compounds that persist in the environment, were once widely used in electrical transformers as a cooling and insulating fluid.

TVA did better in two other categories: the amount of coal burning byproducts recycled and certified clean marinas on the Tennessee River system. TVA "performs comparatively well" in these, the report said.

Coal ash spill

The agency, which received national attention for a massive coal ash spill at its Kingston coal-fired power plant in 2008, has had a culture that "coal ash was unimportant and relegated to the status of garbage at a landfill," according to the report.

"There was very little recognition of the potential hazard to the public and the environment."

It has taken steps to clean up and make changes in its culture, the report said.

Significant management challenges ahead include dealing with increased environmental regulations related to sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, carbon dioxide, and coal combustion waste disposal, shoring up ash ponds at its plants and maintaining current low-cost power while meeting environmental regulations.

TVA officials have said $5 billion has been spent over the years on equipment that has reduced air pollution and that they now want to increase nuclear power and natural gas to reduce the amount of coal burned. The transition will be costly in terms of building new plants.

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