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Valley Pathways Study Stakeholder Working Group Meeting 3

July 18, 2023

TVA and the Baker School for Public Policy and Public Affairs were pleased to welcome our Valley Pathways Study stakeholders to the third meeting of the Stakeholder Working Group on July 18, held at the Westin in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. Eighteen stakeholders attended the meeting (eleven in person and seven virtually) to provide further feedback on the project progress to date as well as discuss revisions and the project’s process going forward. The meeting was also attended by representatives from TVA and the Baker School and consultants on the project team.

Mayor Tim Kelly, Laura Duncan of TVA, and Charles Sims of the Baker School chat before the meeting

Mayor Tim Kelly, Laura Duncan of TVA, and Charles Sims of the Baker School chat before the meeting

The Valley Pathways Team was honored to welcome Mayor Tim Kelly of the City of Chattanooga to Stakeholder Working Group Meeting 3. Mayor Kelly kicked off the meeting by welcoming the TVA team and participating stakeholders. The mayor highlighted Chattanooga’s vision as a green city whose policies encourage the development of new technology and green manufacturing, with the end goal of becoming the “buckle” of the Battery Belt – a reference to increased battery manufacturing capacity expected across much of the nation’s Southeast in coming years. As a part of this green city initiative, Chattanooga won the US Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge in 2022 and decreased energy usage across municipal buildings by 27%, particularly through efficiency upgrades at the city’s wastewater processing facility. The mayor concluded his welcoming comments by emphasizing that changing behavior is difficult and that it is up to city leaders and policymakers to make structural changes to how cities are run so that citizens and businesses may flourish throughout the energy transition.

Mayor Tim Kelly

Mayor Tim Kelly kicks off the meeting

Charles Sims, director of the Energy and Environment Program at the Baker School, then began the meeting’s opening remarks. He highlighted that the Valley Pathways Study provided the perfect opportunity to engage stakeholders and think “outside the box” about how the energy transition will unfold and how it will affect all the economic sectors and people who reside in the Valley. During the meeting, he announced that the former Baker Center has become the Baker School at the University of Tennessee. It is the first school to be incorporated in over 60 years at the university, with dedicated resources to hire faculty and train students on issues surrounding decarbonization and the energy transition. The new school will allow for the University of Tennessee to convene expertise from existing departments as well as bring in new staff to better enable a candid discussion of the challenges, trade-offs, and opportunities associated with the energy transition in the Valley region over the coming decades.

Campus of the new Baker School

Campus of the new Baker School for Public Policy and Public Affairs

After concluding the welcome and opening remarks, Laura Duncan, TVA’s Valley Pathways Study Project Manager, outlined the project status and recent accomplishments, including the development of initial pathway scenarios and resulting energy demand profiles. She also highlighted the public webinar that the team held on July 11, 2023, and discussed TVA’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The IRP seeks to set the strategic direction of how TVA will meet future electricity demand and achieve TVA’s mission, while the Valley Pathways Study examines how economic sectors – such as transportation, industry, and agriculture – might effect change throughout the Valley region in the coming years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow the economy. One of the primary goals of the Valley Pathways Study is to conduct a broad exploration of the various methods that the entire valley region could use to decarbonize.

Stakeholders chat with Mayor Kelly

Stakeholders chat with Mayor Kelly

Next, the group began discussions about the pathway scenarios developed to date. Since the last stakeholder meeting, the project team incorporated additional feedback into its reference case scenario and developed three initial pathway scenarios:

  • The first of these scenarios, the “Community Resiliency/Localization” scenario, explores a future where the Valley reinvests in local infrastructure, seeking concentrated growth, resiliency, and community self-sufficiency with the goal of energy and other resource needs being met locally. 
  • The second, the “Accelerated Electrification” scenario, looks to international trends of electric vehicle and thermal electrification adoption to explore what the future may look like if the valley region doubles down on electrifying everything that can be electrified. 
  • The final scenario, the “Low-Carbon Breakthrough” scenario, emphasizes investment in bioenergy production and next-generation low carbon manufacturing processes and represents the lower bound of electric demand among the initial net-zero scenarios.

The team emphasized that the future will likely be a combination of these pathways and that the study seeks to explore what trade-offs, benefits, and costs the Valley could expect from each scenario separately.

Each scenario made assumptions related to future trends in the Valley such as population growth, travel demand, fuel types, and technology adoption rates. Making these assumptions is difficult, since certain aspects of the Valley (like technology adoption rates) are highly uncertain. A good analogy is cell phone adoption: In the 1990s, it would have been hard to imagine that in thirty years cell phones would largely replace landlines, but advancements in manufacturing efficiencies and overall technology and infrastructure made it so that a wider swath of the population could afford them. For renewable technologies, there may be a similar situation wherein cost constraints in the present day decrease due to improvements in manufacturing or the technologies themselves, making these technologies far more affordable and adoptable in the future.

The project team used a combination of national and regional databases coupled with scenario-specific assumptions to illustrate what the energy and emissions profiles of the Valley could look like in 2050 across each initial pathway. These results were not meant to be predictive but instead provided a picture of what initiatives and barriers might need to be addressed in order to realize each of the initial scenarios.

After covering technical details associated with each scenario, the stakeholders and TVA staff divided into the meeting’s first breakout session to discuss topics related to the initial scenarios, including overall impressions, key challenges and barriers, and solutions to achieving each scenario. Initial impressions of the reference and scenario model results were that non-energy greenhouse gas emissions such as waste changed very little across all scenarios, which began a conversation on what actions should be taken to change the behaviors in the sector.

Stakeholders and TVA discuss in breakout groups

Stakeholders and TVA discuss in breakout groups

Trends and behaviors were a common topic discussed across all breakout groups, with a major unknown being how markets will trend in the coming decades and whether the Valley’s culture could be significantly shifted by market forces (i.e., electric vehicles becoming cheaper and charging infrastructure becoming more widespread) or whether additional outreach and education initiatives will need to be launched. In addition to social barriers, stakeholders also discussed the range of technical barriers that need to be overcome, ranging from standardization of electric vehicle infrastructure to leveraging smart-home technology to help improve residential and commercial energy usage. All breakout groups agreed that overcoming these challenges will likely require better economics, more outreach and education initiatives, targeted funding for environmental justice communities, and extensive cooperation between federal, state, and local governments as well as state agencies and key stakeholders.

The group then broke for lunch and reconvened for the second breakout group, where the central topic was a “Blue-Sky Exercise” in which groups discussed what decarbonization measures they would adopt if costs were not an issue. All groups agreed that money would need to be dedicated towards education initiatives, particularly ones that target low-to-moderate income (LMI) and disadvantaged communities (DACs), to ensure that Valley residents are aware of programs being provided. In this same vein, a discussion was had on how this money would be distributed and how important messaging would be in these education programs to avoid any controversy that may undermine program support.

Project Team, TVA, and Stakeholders

Project Team, TVA, and Stakeholders in breakout group discussion

Several stakeholders remarked that in a world where costs were not an issue, significant investment in Valley infrastructure – particularly roadways and EV charging infrastructure – would be critical in meeting Valley commuting needs as more people flock to the suburbs and urban areas continue to grow. Land usage, in this instance, would be another critical factor to consider when allocating money to development, with new technologies such as drone-usage being introduced to sectors such as agriculture and forestry to improve efficiency sustainably while potentially offsetting land lost to urban development. Stakeholders also advocated for local community input on funds allocation, with organizations like energy service companies acting as intermediaries between communities and utilities to identify services (such as weatherization or home energy efficiency upgrades) that are actually needed in the region and releasing funds accordingly.

The meeting generated some excellent discussion and some good ideas for future modeling. The project team looks forward to formalizing these ideas in the eventual Roadmap Report

Upon wrapping up the breakout group discussions, the group took a field trip to the University of Tennessee’s Center for Urban Informatics and Progress, a short walk from the Westin. There, the CUIP Testbed Manager Austin Harris walked the group through both the currently-in-place and the future-planned sensors located throughout downtown Chattanooga, including traffic monitoring, LIDAR cameras, air quality sensors, and more. The Testbed gathers a wealth of information on urban traffic patterns, safety hazards, and other crucial elements of which the potential uses are endless, while simultaneously honoring its commitment to privacy. The visit to the traffic monitoring center was followed by a visit to a nearby intersection to see the actual sensors and monitoring devices gathering live data. Please reach out to Austin at [email protected] to learn more about the Testbed or to schedule your own visit.

Austin Harris

Austin Harris of the CUIP gives the stakeholder group a tour of the Testbed's traffic monitoring center

Next Steps

There will be three more Stakeholder Working Group meetings spread out over the course of 2023 (1 more virtual, and 2 more in-person), with the next one scheduled for Wednesday August 23, 2023. Between meetings, the project team will be engaging stakeholders via focus sessions and informal meetings and calls to gather further feedback on the net-zero pathway scenarios and the final roadmap report contents. 

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.