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How TVA Kept Pace with Record Power Demands- Knoxville News Sentinel

More energy sources, new tech worked during winter storm

Photo: HANNAH MATTIX/NEWS SENTINEL

TVA relied heavily on nuclear plants to keep power flowing to customers during the winter storm.

The Tennessee Valley Authority had a record-setting power week in January, making use of the millions of dollars the agency invested on weatherization and new natural gas plants to get through a week-long winter storm and deep freeze.

A diverse mix of sources, built on the foundation of nuclear power, got the federal utility through its highest-ever power demand on Jan. 17, its highestever weekend power demand on Jan. 21, and its highest amount of power delivered in one week.

The energy sources used during the storm also reflect TVA’s move toward natural gas and away from coal plants, which failed it during Winter Storm Elliott in 2022 and have gotten more expensive as they age.

In extreme weather events, it’s “all resources on deck,” said Aaron Melda, senior vice president of power supply operations at TVA. Melda told Knox News the agency’s operators were thankful as last month’s winter storm arrived that new natural gas plants can withstand cold temperatures.

“Those coal sites are like you’ve got a ‘78 Buick in the driveway,” Melda said. “Bringing on these newer natural gas sites, it’s simply like buying a new car. The inherent reliability of those facilities are going to be better just because they are newer.”

Melda said TVA will continue to invest in extending the lives of its nuclear plants and hydroelectric dams, two of its most reliable power sources.

Where did TVA gets its energy during the record-breaking week?

More vital in extremely low temperatures than its diverse energy mix was the $123 million TVA spent since the blackouts of Winter Storm Elliott to ready its plants for another winter storm, including millions spent on heating technology.

TVA is able to generate close to

33,000 megawatts with all cylinders firing. It can also purchase thousands more megawatts from neighboring utilities.

During Jan. 15-21, the utility purchased about one-sixth of its power and used all its available generating sources, Melda said. Only 3% of TVA’s fleet was unavailable during the week’s peak power demands.

Here’s the breakdown of where that power came from over the week:

● 30% nuclear

● 26% natural gas

● 16% coal

● 11% hydroelectric

● 17% purchased power

The ratio of electricity produced over the frigid week differs from the ratio of general capacities of various sources, which TVA reported in its latest annual SEC filing in November 2023:

● 42% nuclear

● 22% natural gas

● 13% coal

● 8% hydroelectric

● 15% purchased power

Though nuclear accounts for 42% of TVA’s generating capacity, the utility’s three nuclear plants don’t contribute to that capacity at every moment of the week, Melda said.

TVA trades old coal plants for new gas plants

TVA’s shift away from coal and toward natural gas continued between December 2022 — when it ordered its first rolling blackouts — and the January 2024 storm.

Since 2012, TVA has closed seven coal plants, and placed natural gas generators at five of the sites.

The agency retired the Bull Run Fossil Plant on Dec. 1, 2023, and three new natural gas units at the Paradise Combined Cycle Plant in Kentucky came online a month later, adding 750 megawatts of generation built to withstand low temperatures.

Along with three units that came online in July 2023 in Alabama, TVA added almost 1,500 megawatts of natural gas generation.

The Bull Run plant in the Claxton community of Anderson County failed to start generating during Winter Storm Elliott, exposing the weaknesses of TVA’s aging fleet of coal plants.

The average age of the remaining coal plants — Cumberland, Gallatin, Kingston and Shawnee — is about 60 years old, though they were built to run about 40 years. TVA plans to shutter all of them by 2035.

Another problem with coal for TVA is a growing set of federal regulations on the dirty fuel, which make modifying old plants too expensive to be worth it, Melda said.

“Increasing federal standards are requiring additional equipment be added on what is already an old facility, and the finances don’t work out, extending those lives versus bringing new new plants online,” Melda said.

Natural gas also is a fossil fuel, but it emits less carbon than coal. Gas plants can be built in the footprint of coal plants, a model TVA leaders say is a bridge to a cleaner energy future.

TVA has a geographical advantage in the natural gas supply chain, which can drastically affect revenues if gas prices soar. It is positioned between the Marcellus shale formation to the north, where gas is extracted through fracking, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south.

To meet population growth and to make best use of a reliable natural gas supply, spurred on by controversial fracking technology, TVA is building more gas plants. It will replace the Cumberland Fossil Plant, its largest coal plant, with a 1,450 megawatts natural gas plant scheduled to come online in 2026.

Which records did TVA break during the 2024 winter storm?

January’s winter storm was notable not only for the volume of snow and frigid temperatures, between 6.5 and 10 inches in the Knoxville area, but also for how long the snow stuck around, a record seven consecutive days with 4 or more inches of snow on the ground.

At 9 a.m. Jan. 17, as temperatures hovered near 0 degrees in Knoxville and averaged 4 degrees across the Tennessee Valley, TVA withstood a record power demand of 34,524 megawatts, according to preliminary data. That’s enough electricity to power more than 20 million average homes at once.

At 9 a.m. Jan. 21, the utility had a record weekend power demand of 34,284 megawatts.

Over the week of Jan. 15-21, TVA delivered 4,792 gigawatt hours of energy, a record for a seven-day period. A gigawatt is equivalent to 1,000 megawatts, and a gigawatt hour is a measure of energy use over one hour.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy, independently gathers energy data, though its data is not validated by utility companies.

During the record power demand on the morning of Jan. 17, the Energy Information Administration tracked how much power TVA’s fleet was producing:

● Nuclear: 8,523 megawatts

● Natural gas: 10,403 megawatts

● Coal: 4,642 megawatts

● Hydroelectric: 5,085 megawatts

● Other: 1,432 megawatts

● Solar: 53 megawatts

TVA has purchase contracts for 715 megawatts of solar and another 1,867 megawatts under contract but not yet operating, according to 2023 SEC filings. It plans to add 10,000 megawatts of solar generation by 2035, which delivers relatively cheap energy when the sun is shining.

Daniel Dassow is a growth and development reporter focused on technology and energy. Phone 423-637-0878. Email daniel.dassow@knoxnews.com.

ATVG Meeting Murfreesboro Embassy Room Block Expires This Week

Just a quick reminder if you haven’t registered or made room
reservations for our upcoming ATVG Winter Meeting on February 6th at the
Murfreesboro Embassy Suites, time is running out.
The ATVG room block will be expiring this week so make your reservations
now!  Please call 1-800-EMBASSY as soon as possible to take advantage of
special room rates and visit our website, ATVG.ORG, to download the
agenda and registration form. Please note our new mailing address in now
ATVG, PO Box 1504, Paris, TN  38242.  Payments for registration can be
mailed to our new address.
I hope you have a nice holiday weekend and you can escape the cold
weather expected this weekend!
See you on Feb 6th!
Mike Arms, Executive Director
Association of Tennessee Valley Governments

ATVG Winter 2024 Newsletter Published

ATVG 2024 Winter Newsletter has been published for membership.  Feel free to browse for some interesting articles provided by latest TVA press release information.  View newsletter here. 

Make sure to check out our new mailing address and agenda and registration for upcoming meeting February 6 at the Murfreesboro TN Embassy Suites.

Photo by Jason Ayers

Winter ATVG Meeting To Be Held in Murfreesboro TN

Our meeting date for the upcoming February 6, 2024 in Murfreesboro, TN is rapidly approaching and members attending will need to make your room reservations now before our ATVG room block is full.   Please call 1-800-EMBASSY as soon as possible to take advantage of special room rates.

We have an outstanding program planned which includes a TVA update and a presentation on TVA’s Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (Pilot) with projections on Pilot payments for 2024.  We will also be dining that night at a favorite ATVG location: Five Senses Restaurant and Bar.

Please make your reservations soon to join us for a great meeting.  Please visit ATVG.org for registration forms and please note our new mailing address in now ATVG, PO Box 1504, Paris, TN  38242.  Payment for registration can be mailed to our new address.  Download a copy of the Agenda and Registration Form here.

Wishing you and your family a prosperous New Year!

Mike Arms, Executive Director

ATVG

Deborah Grubbs Leaving ATVG Post

The Association of Tennessee Valley Governments will soon be saying goodbye to long time ATVG Program Director Deborah Grubbs of Clarksville, TN.  Deborah has served ATVG for 17 years and will be greatly missed.  Mike Arms, ATVG Executive Director said, “Grubbs has been the smiling face members see at each meeting and has worked hard behind the scenes with various administrative duties from meeting agenda’s, keeping the minutes, to scheduling venue space for the association.  It has been a pleasure to work with Deborah over the years.  She and Geno have become such close friends.”  Grubbs said she has enjoyed her time with the group and has made life long friendships who will always remain close.  Grubbs is looking forward to spending more time with her retired police officer husband, Geno, and her mother.

Ron Watkins of Paris, TN has been hired to replace Grubbs.  Watkins is the Emergency Management/Solid Waste Director for Henry County TN.  The association has moved their Post Office Box to Paris and the new association address is ATVG, PO Box 1504, Paris TN. 38242.

US Energy Secretary’s Visit Marks Global Significance of TVA’s Small Modular Reactors

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Jeff Lyash joined forces this week at the Clinch River Nuclear Site to praise the site’s potential to answer a fundamental question of energy in the 21st century: how to make nuclear power plants smaller and more affordable. The Secretary’s visit marked the potential construction of small modular reactors at TVA’s Clinch River Nuclear Site near Oak Ridge as a project of national and global significance. Read more at Knoxville News Sentinel
Story By:
Daniel Dassow

Knoxville News Sentinel

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Jeff Lyash joined forces Dec. 5 at the Clinch River Nuclear Site to praise the site’s potential to answer a fundamental question of energy in the 21st century: how to make nuclear power plants smaller and more affordable.

Her visit marked the potential construction of small modular reactors at TVA’s Clinch River Nuclear Site as a project of national and global significance. Small modular reactors are smaller and produce less power than traditional nuclear plants, but are expected to cost far less and could be built in clusters to match the output of shuttered coal-fired plants.

In the future, the small modular reactors could bring carbon-free power to hospitals and factories, cropping up across the U.S. like coal plants did a century ago.

The Biden administration’s massive investments in clean energy have placed Granholm, a former two-term governor of Michigan, among the most powerful secretaries of energy.

The Department of Energy owns much of Oak Ridge, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex, and frequently partners with TVA.

Granholm said TVA and its partners in Oak Ridge and Knoxville are leading the way on new nuclear technology that could help the administration reach its ambitious goals of a carbon-free national electric grid by 2035 and a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050.

“Oak Ridge has such an important role to play in our national security and in our clean energy future,” Granholm told Knox News. “That combination makes it irresistible.”

No small modular reactors have been built in the U.S., though several are under development. In 2019, the Clinch River Nuclear Site was the first small modular reactor project to get an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, giving TVA the all-clear to move towards design and budgeting.

When will TVA small modular reactors be built?

The biggest question for the agency now is how to pay for the small modular reactors. Being the first to deploy the technology is always costlier, said Lyash, the TVA CEO. He expects the money to come in part from electricity sales and from outside investment, though a detailed budget is years away.

By 2026 or 2027, the agency will make a final decision on whether to build a small modular reactor at the Clinch River site, pending final design and budget models. TVA would then apply for a construction permit and operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

If the first unit successfully comes online in the early 2030s, TVA plans to build several others at the site to demonstrate the technology can be deployed throughout the country.

In March, TVA announced it would join partners to invest $400 million to develop GE Hitachi’s 300 megawatt small modular reactor technology, which the agency plans to license and build at the Clinch River Nuclear Site.

Ontario Power in Canada and Synthos Green Energy in Poland are the other two partners. Granholm called the four partners, two in the U.S. and two in allied nations, a “magic elixir” for making small modular reactors a reality in the U.S.

The U.S. joined more than 20 countries in a declaration committing to triple their nuclear fleets by 2050 at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai on Dec. 2. That requires the U.S. to go from 100 gigawatts to 300 gigawatts of nuclear power, something Granholm said would be impossible without small modular reactors.

A gigawatt is enough to power around 750,000 homes. Hoover Dam has a power output of around two gigawatts. By 2050, the U.S. must create enough new nuclear power generation to equal 100 Hoover Dams, Granholm said.

The global clean energy technology market is expected to reach $23 trillion by 2030 and the U.S. is in a position to export that technology stamped with a “Made in America” label, Granholm said.

For her, the jobs that small modular reactors and other clean energy technologies could bring is personal. As governor of Michigan during the Great Recession, she saw thousands of auto manufacturing jobs leave her state.

“We used to stand by the side of the road and watch all these jobs leave and I was governor when I saw these factories close,” Granholm told Knox News. “We allowed China to take us to the cleaners. And we’re not doing that anymore. We’re standing up and we’re saying, no, we’re going to get those jobs and those businesses in the United States.”

A rendering shows TVA’s small modular reactor at the Clinch River Site,  about the size  of a football field, could
look like once completed.  Courtesy of Tennessee Valley Authority.

Clinch River Site could bring clean energy future

The Clinch River Nuclear Site, located on a bend of the river a few miles east of the Kingston Fossil Plant, doesn’t look like much right now. It’s a field with a few trailers as workspaces and picket fences to mark the corners of the future small modular reactor units.

It was once meant to house a breeder reactor, which would create more nuclear fuel than it used, though President Jimmy Carter opposed the expensive project and Congress pulled the plug on funding in the 1980s.

The 2020s are a different story, and small modular reactors are a different kind of technology.

President Biden authorized $369 billion of investment in clean energy projects, from EV battery manufacturing to advanced nuclear energy, in the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest single investment in clean energy in U.S. history. Some $36 billion of that money went to Department of Energy projects.

Early last year, the department created a structure to implement $62 billion for clean energy projects from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021. The department has a rigorous auditing process to ensure money is used correctly by recipients, Granholm said. Funding is given in increments contingent on projects reaching critical milestones.

Even as it expands its nuclear technology and retires coal plants, Lyash said he expects nuclear will occupy the same proportion of TVA’s energy mix as it does now. In fiscal year 2023, nuclear generation made up 42% of TVA’s total power generation.

For the first time, all seven units at three plants – Browns Ferry, Sequoyah and Watts Bar – were recognized for their excellence by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.

Lyash said the mission of TVA, the nation’s largest public power provider, is to help the U.S. maintain its position as the world’s largest economy through 2050, a goal that will require reliable, affordable and safe nuclear technology.

Daniel Dassow is a growth and development reporter focused on technology and energy. Phone 423-637-0878. Email daniel.dassow@knoxnews.com.

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ATVG Announces 2024 Meeting Dates

ATVG Announces 2024 Meeting Dates

We have finalized our meeting dates and locations for 2024 and want you to make plans early to join us.

Our 2024 meeting dates are:

  • February 6 at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro, TN  (1-800-Embassy)
  • June 19 at the Marriott Shoals in Florence, AL (256-246-3600)
  • October 23 at the Courtyard Marriott in Gatlinburg, TN  (865-436-2008)

Room blocks are in place at all hotels with rooms available for the previous night for early arrivals.  Thank you for your support of ATVG!

TVA’s Plan For Growth- An Article By TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash

Jeff Lyash is president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority. He wrote this in collaboration with the Tennessee Business Forum, which provides Ten­nessee-connected business leaders with the opportunity to engage with other ex­ecutives from various industries to dis­cuss a broad range of national legisla­tive and regulatory issues. Learn more at Tennesseebusinessforum.com.  See the article here.