A Breath of Fresh Air

People who live and work in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s seven-state service region have something more than usual to be thankful for this holiday season: cleaner air.

NOVEMBER 22, 2016—TVA has been working diligently for decades alongside businesses and industries, vehicle manufacturers and local and state air regulators across the Valley to improve air quality in the Valley. Now it’s better than it has since air quality measurements began in the 1970s.

By some estimates, TVA’s use of a more balanced mix of fuels to generate electricity has helped the region’s air to be cleaner now than it has been in several generations—perhaps since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Although coal, which powered the majority of electricity production for decades, continues to be an important fuel source, TVA is relying on a more diverse mix of cleaner energy sources that includes nuclear and low-emitting natural gas units, as well as renewable sources such as hydro, wind and solar.

Investing In Clean Air

The federally owned utility already has invested more than $6 billion to reduce emissions at several of its coal plants that include Gallatin Fossil Plant in Middle Tennessee. Additional equipment will be installed in 2017 at Gallatin and at Shawnee Fossil Plant near Paducah, Kentucky. As a result, levels of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide found in the air have plummeted.

TVA’s nuclear fleet also is helping to keep the region’s air cleaner. The recently completed Unit 2 at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is the first nuclear generating unit to be placed into commercial operation in the 21st Century, and the seventh TVA operating nuclear unit. Overall, TVA’s nuclear power plants now produce one-third of all power generated by TVA, providing more than 4.5 million homes with electricity without creating air emissions.

According to TVA Executive Vice President of Generation and Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes, these important units represent a vital investment in the region’s clean energy future. “Nuclear power remains the only source of carbon-free energy that is available 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week,” he says.

The region’s air isn’t cleaner only because of emissions-free nuclear plants and lower-emitting fossil plants. TVA also has been replacing legacy coal-fired plants with more-efficient power generating stations fueled by cleaner-burning natural gas, and adding renewable energy sources—such as the new 75-megawatt River Bend Solar Energy Center in Lauderdale County, Alabama—to its existing 29 dams, which consistently provide emissions-free hydro generation.

The Bottom Line

So, what is the result of these efforts?

“The region has never measured air quality this good in all parts of the Valley—urban, rural and mountain communities,” says Brenda Brickhouse, TVA’s vice president for Environmental and Energy Policy, and the company’s chief sustainability officer. “We are investing smart money into cleaner generating assets and newer technologies. Doing so helps protect our natural resources and provides our customers with reliable electric service that is 99.999-percent dependable, and at the lowest-feasible price.”

Brickhouse explained that TVA is working hard to be a responsible steward of the environment. “We will continue to engage local and state officials as we maintain a sustainable environment as part of our mission to make life better for the people of the Tennessee Valley.”

Her bottom line: “This is the right thing to do.”

Air Quality Matters!

That's why TVA has worked tirelessly to improve air quality, realizing steady declines in rates of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions. Thanks to it's efforts, and those of Valley businesses and local regulators—the Valley's air is at its cleanest, having recently achieved Valleywide ozone standard compliance. Read more about TVA's air quality successes.

Keeping Water Quality High

TVA’s waterways support multiple uses, including drinking water, navigation, power production and recreation. That’s why TVA does all that it can to maintain the highest levels of water quality—including monitoring the lakes and rivers it manages, boosting oxygen in the water, maintaining groundwater assessment programs at each of the 11 coal plants it has operated in the Valley and more. Click here for more information about TVA and water quality.