When a major snowstorm knocked out the Texas power grid in February 2021, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) touted its “continued reliability,” according to The Tennessean, claiming it could handle temperatures down to -10 without resorting to drastic measures or suffering the fate of the Lonestar State.
However, as a cold front brought subfreezing temperatures to much of the country over the past Christmas weekend, the TVA broke from its 90-year history and, for the first time, instituted rolling blackouts and cut the power to thousands of customers, including in north Alabama, to lessen the burden of the unexpected increase in demand.
“During a 24-hour period on Friday, Dec. 23, TVA supplied more power than at any other time in its nearly 90-year history. This event also produced the highest winter power peak in TVA history,” the TVA said Wednesday in a press release.
Though many local power companies were charged with controlling the energy reductions, the TVA said it takes full responsibility for the issues experienced last weekend and will thoroughly review “what occurred and why.”
“We will learn from this unprecedented event and are committed to providing you with the reliable service you expect and deserve,” the release stated.
Though the TVA is a multistate, quasi-federal agency, some officials in Alabama blamed its pursuit of so-called “green energy” and its failure to complete the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Jackson County and closing other power sources in the state.
“Over the last several years, the Tennessee Valley Authority has declined to pursue completing the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant and closed two coal-fired plants in North Alabama. At the time each of these decisions were made, we were assured the TVA had plenty of generating capacity to power the Tennessee Valley,” U.S. Rep.-elect Dale Strong (R-Huntsville) told 1819 News.
“In light of the recent rolling blackouts across north Alabama, I would like to hear from TVA on the status of current capacity,” he added. “It is my goal to ensure we have enough power capacity to meet current and future needs so that North Alabamians do not have to experience rolling blackouts during a winter storm again.”
Outgoing U.S. Rep Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) gave a harsher criticism of how the TVA handled the recent cold weather. He told 1819 News that he, too, wanted to see the Bellefonte project completed and called the TVA’s refusal to do so the “worst federal boondoggle in history.”
#TVA mandates rolling blackouts in frigid weather. TVA should finish #Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant - worst federal boondoggle in history.— Mo Brooks (@RepMoBrooks) December 24, 2022
BILLIONS $$ misspent. ZERO power production.
Citizens need power to heat homes, not lump of coal for Christmas.https://t.co/77GHJ1oluX
“There’s a big picture and a smaller picture,” Brooks said. “The big picture is that the TVA Board of Directors and officers have shifted away from more reliable energy sources such as nuclear and coal to exotics such as wind and solar. Coal and nuclear are cheaper, thus saving TVA citizens on their utility bills. Notwithstanding that, TVA has shifted in favor of exotics that are both less reliable and more expensive.”
He pointed to the TVA’s abandonment of the Bellefonte Nuclear Facility as a prime example of the “shift.”
“Bellefonte Nuclear Facility is one of the, if not the, worst federal boondoggles of all time given the billions of dollars in cost, paid for by TVA ratepayers, without a single watt of electricity having been generated,” Brooks said.
Construction on the Bellefonte Nuclear Facility project began in the 1970s in Hollywood, Alabama. Though parts of the plant were close to 90% complete, the project was shelved and restarted a few times over the next several decades until finally, in 2021, the TVA pulled its requests for continuing the construction permits, which practically ended any hope of having an operational nuclear plant at the site.
This came after a plan to sell the site to Franklin Haney, who owns Nuclear Development LLC, fell through. Haney offered to buy the plant for roughly $111 million — a fraction of the TVA’s estimated $6 billion investment. After accepting the deal, the TVA backed out, claiming Haney failed to get the proper permits. Others believe the TVA was scared off by possibly losing Memphis, Tennessee as a customer to Haney if he were to complete the plant.
“Had TVA completed Bellefonte themselves or cooperated with Franklin Haney, who is willing to complete it, we would have more electricity being generated in the TVA region and be less likely to have the rolling blackouts we just saw,” Brooks said. “On a side benefit perspective, Jackson County really needed Bellefonte to be completed and operational because it would have been producing a lot of jobs that pay over $100,000 per year.”
Despite some calling it a “once in a generation event,” Brooks added that the recent cold snap, though unusual, was not without precedent, and the TVA should have been able to anticipate how to handle it based on instances in the past.
“Liberal presidents, when they’re in office, in various parts of the TVA region — it’s multistate — have combined to nominate and confirm to the TVA board people who are more than happy to feel good on somebody else’s dime via their investments in more expensive and less reliable exotic energy production forms,” he said.
When asked if having completed the Bellfonte Nuclear Plant could have prevented the blackouts, Scott Fielder with TVA media relations said it would be "inappropriate to speculate" until the agency's review of the situation is complete.
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