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Nearly a century after the Tennessee Valley Authority was created to harness the power of the Tennessee River, America’s biggest public utility is planning to turn more to the sun, splitting atoms and natural gas plants to power its future.

The power shift outlined in a new strategic guide endorsed Thursday by TVA directors will phase out coal-fired power generation by 2035 to help limit the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. TVA plans next week to give the required notice to begin the process of phasing out of the two-unit Cumberland Fossil plant in Cumberland City, Tennessee — TVA’s biggest coal plant — and by July TVA should give notice of its plans to shut down the nine-unit Kingston fossil plant in Kingston, Tennessee.

TVA President Jeff Lyash said the federal utility, which has already cut its carbon emissions by 63% in the past decade and a half, should cut its carbon output from the 2005 levels by at least 70% by 2030 and by 80% by 2035. Lyash said the carbon cuts should be made while keeping electric rates stable, boosting the electrification of transportation and maintaining TVA’s 20-year-plus record of 99.999% reliability.

“We believe that maintaining balance between price, reliability, carbon reduction efforts and economywide electrification will deliver a sustainable economic advantage,” TVA’s strategic plan says.

TVA plans to add up to 10,000 megawatts of additional solar power generation by 2035, including 2,300 megawatts already underway for deployment within the next two years. That represents a 24-fold jump in solar generation, Lyash said.

TVA also is actively studying and planning to add a number of small modular reactors in Oak Ridge by 2032 to boost TVA’s nuclear power generation which already supplies more than 40% of TVA’s electricity.

TVA strategy guidelines

The TVA board Thursday adopted strategic principles which include:

Building a carbon-free future

* Phase out coal generation by 2035

* More solar generation: TVA committed to adding 2,300 megawatts of solar power by the end of 2023 and to reach 10,000 megawatts of solar by 2035.

* More nuclear power: Nuclear power generates 42% of TVA’s and TVA could add small modular reactors in Oak Ridge by 2032 to further boost nuclear output.

* Carbon reduction goals: 63% reduction already in carbon since 2005 peak. Goal is 70% carbon reduction by 2030, 80% by 2035 and 100% carbon free by 2050

Maintaining attractive energy costs & reliability

* Stable rates: Plans to avoid base rate increase for next decade and maintain 99.999% reliability

* Electricity prices are now lower than a decade ago

* Residential rates below 70% of major utilities

* Industrial rates below 90% of major utilities

Promoting economic and job development

* In the past five years, TVA recruited $45.4 billion of investment and added or retained 341,000 jobs

* In the first half of fiscal 2022, TVA attracted $3.9 billion of investment with 45,200 jobs, including the biggest capital investment of $2.3 billion ever from GM and LG Chem for a battery plant in Spring Hill and the biggest single job addition of 8,500 jobs from Oracle in Nashville.

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

To help promote the next generation of nuclear power, TVA announced Thursday it is partnering with Kairos Power to collaborate on deploying a low-power demonstration reactor at the East Tennessee Technology Park in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

As part of this agreement, TVA will provide engineering, operations, and licensing support to help Kairos Power deploy a 50-megawatt demonstration reactor, named Hermes. The Kairos Power fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactor (KP-FHR) is a novel advanced reactor technology and officials hope to have a test reactor built in Oak Ridge around 2026.

“Teamwork is the hallmark of the nuclear industry, and through this partnership with Kairos Power we can share TVA’s safety and innovation insights to advance nuclear technology while gaining experience with licensing for advanced reactors,” Lyash said. “Nuclear power is the key to fueling our economy with reliable, affordable, and clean electricity, and it is critical to our national security.”

TVA Chairman John Ryder said the federal utility has only about half the carbon emissions per kilowatthour of its utility peers in the Southeast, primarily due to its seven operating nuclear reactors, which supply over 40% of TVA’s power, and its 29 hydroelectric dams on the Tennessee River, which is what TVA originally built after its creation in 1933 and supply over 10% of TVA’s power.

Over the past decade and a half, TVA has shut down most of the 59 coal-fired generators it once operated. TVA is preparing to shutter its Bull Run Fossil plant by 2023 and, subject to environmental studies and board approval, is planning to ultimately shut down all 25 of its remaining coal-fired units at Cumberland, Gallatin, Kingston and Shawnee coal plants by 2035.

“TVA is a national leader in carbon reduction and TVA is actively working to develop the energy system of the future,” Ryder said after the board endorsed the decarbonizing strategy on Thursday.

The TVA board adopted the strategy after a board retreat meeting and a briefing with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

TVA also has set a goal of achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050. That’s 15 years after President Joe Biden wants America’s electric industry to be carbon free in 2035.

TVA is still building new natural gas-fired plants which contributed to carbon output. But Lyash said such plants are needed to maintain reliability because they can be fired up quickly and used intermittently when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow and TVA has a spike in power demand.

Lyash said to become completely carbon-free while still supplying electricity to power more vehicles on the road as cars shift from gasoline to batteries will require new technologies, including carbon capture sequestration for its natural gas plants and new methods of energy storage or nuclear generation.

“Nuclear is critical to achieving net-zero carbon emissions, ” Lyash told the TVA board during a quarterly meeting in Knoxville.  “TVA has been a leader in developing new nuclear technologies and we stand ready to help the nation lead in the development of small modular reactors.”

In December 2019, TVA was awarded the first early site permit for two or more small modular reactors to be built in the Clinch River near the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Lyash said TVA is also working to promote more electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions in America’s transportation sector. That is also paying dividends for Tennessee, which is home to three EV vehicle manufacturers and just landed the state’s biggest single investment ever from a $2.3 billion battery plant planned in Spring Hill by GM and LG Chem.

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