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Rural Landscape in Tennessee

Valley Pathways Study Stakeholder Working Group Meeting 2

June 6, 2023

TVA and the Baker Center for Public Policy were pleased to welcome our Valley Pathways Study stakeholders to the second meeting of the Stakeholder Working Group on June 6th, held virtually. Twenty stakeholders were able to attend the web-based meeting to provide further feedback on the first Stakeholder Meeting, as well as to discuss revisions to the baseline analysis and provide feedback on the modeling approach going forward. The meeting was also attended by representatives from TVA and the Baker Center, as well as consultants on the project team.

The meeting kicked off with opening remarks from Joe Hoagland, Vice President of Innovation and Research at TVA, who spoke about TVA’s efforts to decarbonize the Valley. His remarks discussed initiatives in the fields of small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear technologies, clean hydrogen production, and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, among other initiatives TVA is exploring. A primary focus for TVA as it approaches the Valley’s energy transition is ensuring the reliability of the existing grid and working with local communities to minimize challenges that may arise from decarbonization efforts.

TVA is dedicated to 7 Signature Transformation Initiation Initiatives focused on decarbonizing the Valley without sacrificing reliability.

Laura Duncan, TVA’s Valley Pathways Study Project Lead, then led brief introductions of attendees before covering the project timeline and recent accomplishments. Among these accomplishments were the establishment of a Valley-Wide Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Baseline, development of a modeling framework, the first Stakeholder Working Group meeting, the launch of the Stakeholder SharePoint and Communications Kit, and continued development of the project website.

After finishing opening remarks and the welcome, the team reviewed Stakeholder feedback and changes that had been made to the Valley’s GHG baseline since the first Stakeholder Working Group meeting. Based on that feedback, changes were made to the assumptions regarding agriculture, gas leakage rates, and renewable natural gas (RNG). Additional changes were made to account for electric grid line losses and the distribution of emissions associated with agriculture. The results of these changes were then presented in the revised GHG Baseline shown below.

GHS Baseline

Revised GHG Baseline for the Valley

In the first meeting, Stakeholders expressed interest in carbon sequestration happening in the Valley as well as how the modeling would consider Disadvantaged Communities. The modeling team acknowledged that carbon sequestration would be included in the study, however they are still answering questions surrounding whether naturally occurring sequestration should be included in the modeling and who gets credit for that sequestration. For Disadvantaged Communities, the modeling team confirmed that environmental justice communities could be identified by county and that future scenario results would be able to identify specific impacts on these communities.

After discussing Stakeholder-recommended changes, the team presented its draft reference case for the Valley, which is shown in the figure below. The purpose of the reference case is more to serve as a basis for comparison, rather than as a prediction of the Valley’s future emissions going into 2050. In creating the reference case, the team assumed that current laws and regulations would remain in place with no major future modifications. Local forecasts, such as population growth, were used where available, and national statistics, such as projected vehicle efficiency, industrial energy consumption, and building modification costs were used where regional data was not available.

Draft reference case for the valley

Draft Reference Case for the Valley

Stakeholders were invited into four break-out groups to discuss the draft reference case and discuss what surprised them about the draft, what critical actions or levers will be necessary to enable emissions reductions, and what key risks and barriers exist to those levers. Discussions covered a wide variety of topics, but common themes across the breakout groups focused on the transportation sector, community outreach, and the reliability of the grid during the transition.

Transportation was identified in all four breakout groups as a big opportunity for potential decarbonization strategies in the Valley. TVA and the State of Tennessee are working with the Department of Energy to improve highway charging infrastructure, which is expected to increase the rate of electric vehicle adoption, though it was remarked that other factors outside of economics and convenience may still delay adoption in the Valley relative to the rest of the nation. Engaging the Tennessee Department of Transportation as well as municipal governments were identified as key actions in decarbonizing the transportation sector, as those entities could help shape perspectives through policy.

Another common theme that was discussed was community outreach during the energy transition. Including rural communities, municipal governments, electric cooperatives, and other non-urban stakeholders in the discussion will be key to ensuring that decarbonization goals are met. These groups were mentioned specifically due to the large rural population in the Valley as well past studies unintentionally favoring more urban stakeholders. In addition to ensuring rural buy-in, community outreach will be critical to assessing regional capacity and reliability and providing better insight for how policy can be effectively implemented without severely disrupting communities.

Reliability was the third topic repeated across all the breakout groups, with an emphasis on any decarbonization roadmap also considering reliability of the grid during the transition. Winter Storm Elliot, which caused significant damage in the Valley in late 2022, was mentioned several times as an example of an event that tested grid reliability and resiliency. TVA’s new IRP, currently in development, will plan for reliability, affordability, resiliency, and cleaner energy as it sets direction to meet the Valley’s electricity needs through 2050.

Electric Vehicle

Tennessee is focused on rolling out more charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in the Valley to improve reliability for drivers making the transition from gas to electric.

After breaking for lunch, Benjamin Miller, a consultant from Guidehouse, discussed potential pathway scenarios that are currently in development. Numerous pathways studies have been done in recent years, ranging from regional studies, such as the ones completed in Massachusetts and North Carolina, to nationwide studies, such as the one performed by Princeton. Each pathways study involved numerous components in shaping scenarios, including which sectors are included, the granularity of the study, and the range of scenarios and assumptions in each scenario. Common scenarios that have been used in past studies are “high electrification” scenarios, where there is an accelerated push to electrify as much as possible, and “low-carbon fuels” scenarios, where alternative fuel types and technologies take on a greater role to help decarbonize the economy.

The Stakeholders then broke out into groups again to discuss what should be considered in developing scenarios. Key questions that the groups focused on were what questions need to be answered by the study, what data sources should be incorporated, sensitive topics needing further consideration, and additional organizations and stakeholders that should be engaged as scenarios are developed. Similar to the first breakout group, a wide range of topics were discussed, but common themes were the impact of federal funding, land-use and population changes in the Valley, infrastructure challenges, and the costs of decarbonization.

The Valley has seen a population boom in recent years that is not uniform across the region, so it was recommended that several potential scenarios explore what the future will look like if this trend keeps up in the coming years (such an approach would use regional population growth studies rather than national statistics). Similarly, as the Valley’s population has grown, so too have its urban areas; land-use will be a very important issue to address going forward, particularly regarding the rural-urban divide as well as for projects requiring large areas of land, such as solar farms and carbon sequestration projects.

Infrastructure challenges, particularly in rural communities, were identified as a key component of any plan for the Valley’s transition. In many areas, local capacity and funds are already limited and those materials are being used to bring the existing grid up to code rather than modernize. Any plan will require the input of community and county governments as well as the local utilities to ensure that decarbonization efforts are reasonable. To this end, it was recommended that the Valley Pathways Study scenarios be quantifiable to the point that it can inform these communities and allow them a better sense of future planning needs.

Finally, the costs of decarbonization were discussed across all groups. Stakeholders emphasized that the Pathways Study should provide a cost-benefit analysis of the different scenarios to enable the merits of different pathways compared to the regional costs. Additionally, certain regions of the Valley (e.g., Memphis) have large amounts of old housing stock that raise concerns over how feasible it would be for communities to spend money on upgrades. There were additional concerns over the costs of electric vehicles to consumers and the costs of charging infrastructure to municipalities. There was general agreement that any plan moving forward will have to utilize both state and federal funding as well as informational initiatives to ensure that Valley residents have the best information available before deciding to make any upgrades.

Next Steps

There will be four more Stakeholder Working Group meetings spread out over the course of 2023 (one more virtual, and three more in-person). Between meetings, the project team will be engaging stakeholders via focus groups and informal meetings and calls to gather further feedback on the baseline, the reference case scenario, and the net-zero pathway scenarios. Immediate next steps will include “Sector Deep-Dive” sessions, where various parts of the Valley economy will be examined with subject matter experts to develop the best list of assumptions.

The project team welcomes the voice of the general public as well! Be sure to join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on the happenings (including upcoming public webinars), and leave a comment if you’d like to weigh in on the Study or have any questions.

Stay tuned for more updates as the Valley Pathways Study makes progress!

What is a Pathways Study?

A Pathways Study uses scenario-based analysis to compare several possible visions of the future to help determine the timing, scale and effects of achieving greenhouse gas limits.

Learn more.

Join the Study

Please visit the Valley Pathways Study page at the UT Baker School to join the study mailing list and share your feedback on the preliminary findings report.