During the 1960s, the number of electricity customers in the Tennessee Valley passed two million. Thirty percent of homes in the region were heated electrically, and average residential use was twice the national average. By the end of the decade, homes and farms in the region used nearly 200 times as much electricity as they had in 1933.
This growth required substantial increases in generating capacity – and greater attention to the environmental impact of strip-mined coal. TVA established demonstrations of strip-mine-reclamation methods and began contractually requiring its coal suppliers to reclaim and revegetate any stripped area.
After studies suggested that nuclear-power generation might be more economical and have less impact on the environment than coal, TVA began construction in 1967 of the world’s largest nuclear plant — Browns Ferry in north Alabama. When the first unit went online seven years later, it saved consumers $200 million a year compared to equivalent generation from coal. But as construction costs for new plants increased, TVA and local power distributors were forced to increase rates for the first time.
Even so, the relative prosperity of the ‘60s created more leisure time for Valley residents. In 1963, TVA began developing a 40-mile strip of woodland between TVA’s Kentucky Lake and the new Lake Barkley created by the Corps of Engineers. Called Land Between the Lakes, this area became a popular “living laboratory” for outdoor education and recreation.
With its regional flood-control system complete, TVA helped Valley communities reduce local flooding. TVA increased its focus on economic development and helped land-grant universities prepare Valley farmers to compete more effectively with other agricultural regions.