As a steward of the natural resources of the TVA region, TVA works to create a better quality of life in the region. Following is a conversation with Tom Kilgore, TVA acting chief executive officer, president and chief operating officer, about TVA’s commitment to the environment.
Q. Since you came to TVA a year ago, what issues have struck you as TVA’s most important environmental priorities?
A. Our top priority is to keep improving our environmental performance throughout our operations. Air quality is a critical issue for the TVA region and for our nation, and TVA is in the midst on one of the most aggressive emission reduction programs in the nation. We have made great strides in reducing emissions from our fossil plants, and we will stay focused on producing affordable, reliable power while continuing to moderate the environmental impacts of power production.
Water quality and the need to manage water resources effectively are also crucial issues. The Southeast continues to experience robust economic growth, and large urban areas will increasingly need to reach outside their immediate areas for water resources. We have world-class experience in water management and in working with communities to protect and improve water resources. This expertise will be a vital advantage for the region.
Our progress in these areas of environmental performance is central to improving the quality of life in the TVA region.
Q. What are some of TVA’s most significant environmental accomplishments of the past two years?
A. Clearly, our most important contribution is making the air cleaner. Studies show that air quality in the region, including the Smoky Mountains, is better now than it has been in at least three decades. In calendar year 2005, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from our coal-fired plants were the lowest on record even though we generated the third-highest amount of electricity ever from these plants. By 2005, we had reduced summer ozone-season nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent below 1995 levels, and we are on track to reduce sulfur dioxide 85 percent below 1977 levels by 2010.
We also continue to improve the way we manage the Tennessee River system. In the past two years, we have been able to gauge the results of our new reservoir operating policy in both extremely dry and wet weather. In both cases, the system performed as it was meant to, minimizing flood damage from heavy rain and providing ample water during dry spells. Overall, the changes are helping TVA meet its minimum flow commitments, keep water levels high through Labor Day, and generate valuable hydropower to help meet record power demands.
Q. What is TVA doing in the area of renewable energy to reduce the impact of its operations?
A. I am pleased that TVA is nationally recognized for its work with renewable energy sources. TVA was the first utility in the Southeast to offer customers the opportunity to purchase green power. During the past two years, we have worked with our public power distributor customers in the Valley to expand Green Power Switch®. As of November 30, 2005, the program had 8,531 residential customers and 435 business customers. On Earth Day 2005, we dedicated 15 new wind turbines at the TVA Buffalo Mountain Wind Park near Knoxville, increasing the generating capacity of the site to 29 megawatts. This makes it one of the largest commercial wind sites in the Southeast.
But we also have other ways to reduce the impact of our operations. We are modernizing the power trains at our hydro plants to increase their output. Last year we generated 13 percent more hydropower than normal. Restarting Unit 1 at Browns Ferry Nuclear plant in 2007 will also add a significant amount of generation that does not contribute to air emissions.
Q. What kind of resource commitment has TVA made to meet its environmental objectives?
A. For air quality alone, TVA has spent more than $4.4 billion since the early 1970s to reduce emissions. We will spend another $1.3 billion through 2010, and we will spend between $3 billion and $3.5 billion to meet the new Clean Air Interstate Rule announced in 2005. The equipment required to reduce emissions is not only expensive but also very complex, and we are gaining valuable experience in design and modifications to operate this equipment at optimum efficiency.
For water quality, TVA is spending $17 million on aeration projects at key dams to ensure adequate oxygen concentrations for aquatic life. These projects are part of the change in operating policy that TVA instituted after completing its Reservoir Operations Study. This investment is on top of the $14 million increase in annual power production costs incurred as a result of the policy changes.
Q. How does TVA work with citizens’ groups and other agencies to protect and restore the region's resources?
A. Our partnership efforts with citizens’ groups and other agencies continue TVA’s legacy of working with communities to improve environmental quality. For example, 53 marinas across the TVA region now participate in the Clean Marina program. This is a vital partnership for encouraging responsible environmental compliance by boaters to improve water quality. In fact, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has adopted it as a model program for other river systems.
We’re also involved in watershed quality improvement initiatives in 36 targeted locations throughout the region. TVA helps develop local coalitions to identify sources of pollution, formulate action plans and secure resources to implement those plans. Considered a model for watershed improvement initiatives, this structured approach helps TVA’s partners successfully compete for grant funding crucial to the success of these watershed efforts.
Through its Growth Readiness programs, TVA is currently working with local officials from Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia to reduce the impact of regional growth on water resources. TVA does this by helping the officials build consensus for changing their districts’ development guidelines.
TVA’s watershed teams played a key role in 2005 in 31 cleanup events involving 8,100 volunteers, who collected more than 272 metric tons [300 tons] of trash from reservoirs, parks, and other locations. We also work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to assess environmental impacts on aquatic life, wetlands, endangered species, archaeological sites and other sensitive resources.
Q. What are TVA’s greatest environmental challenges for 2006 and beyond?
A. Federal clean air regulations continue to evolve and present new financial challenges. We will work to find lower-cost approaches to emission controls and will sustain our commitment to the important research that supports clean-air measures, such as our carbon capture projects and particle monitoring in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Water supply issues will become more urgent as the region grows, and we will continue working with the seven states in our service area to develop policy that protects water resources. One way we do that is through the Tennessee Valley Water Partnership, established in 2004, whose focus is to improve regional cooperation in water resource management and provide a framework for coordination and information-sharing.
We will also continue to monitor the effects of our new reservoir operating policy to ensure that it adequately meets all the competing demands on the river, including the protection of aquatic life, wetlands, endangered species, archaeological sites and other sensitive resources.
Q. How will TVA improve its environmental performance?
A. In 2002, TVA integrated its fragmented approach to environmental performance into a unified management tool, the Environmental Management System [EMS]. For the first time, TVA set agency-wide objectives and targets that incorporate environmental considerations into its business decisions.
The EMS is helping TVA manage risk, improve its environmental performance, save money, reduce waste, and find innovative solutions to environmental issues. To keep abreast of how we’re doing, we developed an index of 23 measures to monitor the impact of our operations on air quality, energy consumption, land, waste production and water quality. We call it the Environmental Impact Index. The index is a way to measure our overall progress and identify areas for improvement, such as continuing to reduce emissions from our fossil plants, reducing and preventing spills to land and water, and continuing to minimize waste at all TVA facilities, so we can use resources more effectively.
Implementation of the EMS has improved TVA’s environmental performance, saved TVA more than $20 million, and provided many other benefits that can’t be measured in dollars. It will govern our environmental activities, and we expect it to generate continuous improvement in environmental performance. This Environmental Report provides an overview of our progress to date.
Read more about TVA’s Environmental Management System and how it helps TVA manage and monitor the environmental impacts of its operations.