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TVA Power Production Future: Renewables

Bill Williams
Special to WRCBtv.com

This is Part 5 in a 5-part series on TVA's future in power production, produced by WBIR, our NBC partner in Knoxville.

BUFFALO MOUNTAIN, ANDERSON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) - The future of TVA power generation includes what are known as "renewables," energy that comes from natural resources like wind and the sun.

Currently, that is a small part of the agency's power portfolio, but in planning for the future of the valley, TVA officials say it is a vital part.

There is one place in East Tennessee where that small part of TVA's power production makes a big visual impact. That place is on top of Buffalo Mountain near Oliver Springs in Anderson County.

There, eighteen huge windmills turning in the breeze make a stirring sight.

As those big blades turn round and round, they're grinding out electricity, but not much.

Each wind turbine is capable of producing up to 1.8 megawatts each, for a total on the mountain of 29 megawatts, enough electricity for about 3700 homes.

The wind turbines are gigantic, almost as tall as a football field is long. But the newest, latest, most efficient models are twice as big.

Those bigger wind turbines are being built in areas of the country where the wind is more constant. And it is there, in the Midwest, where TVA has recently contracted for 1380 megawatts of power from wind farms.

"We're doing that because there appears to be a move toward a federal mandate that will instruct us to have a certain percentage of renewables," TVA President Tom Kilgore said. "So we want to be out in front of that, while it's still a buyer's market before it gets to be a seller's market."

Still, Kilgore says he would rather not send money out of the valley to buy electricity. But that doesn't mean there are plans to build any more wind farms.

Instead, Kilgore says, when it comes to generation from renewables, the agency will look at things like "biomass," or "more solar."

Wind power is only a tiny part of TVA's total electric generating capability, yet the agency says it is an important part of a "balanced portfolio" of generation.

"We've got to move to things that produce less carbon, that produce less emissions of other types, which is going to drive us toward nuclear for base load power. Its going to drive us toward renewables to gas power for intermediate loads, and then energy efficiency to help meet those peak requirements," TVA Vice President Joe Hoagland said.

"If you look at what we've got in terms of our nuclear power and our coming gas generation and our hydro base, we're going to be able to achieve this goal of lowering our contribution to the carbon environment faster than a lot of people, because we have all three of those things going and then take energy efficiency and put it on top of that, there's just a good story out there for TVA, long term," Kilgore said.

Kilgore added that TVA's electric rates, which are 10-20% below the national average, should maintain that position in the next decade.

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