NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — For decades, Tennessee Valley Authority has maintained a reputation as a reliable power generator, but for some customers, the December blackouts put a dent on that reputation.
TVA was established in the Great Depression era to create jobs and harness the Valley’s energy. it is the largest public utility in the United States.
“TVA has a great history of providing reliable power,” said civil engineer, Monica Sartain with Report Card on Tennessee’s Infrastructure and assistant professor at Lipscomb University.
Her team gave Tennessee’s energy a “C+” grade. That was before the December blackouts.
“C+ is a little above average. That means that there’s definitely areas for improvement, but overall, it’s working,” she said.
TVA generates power from a number of sources. Its largest is nuclear power at 44%, followed by natural gas, coal, hydroelectric, wind and solar.
TVA then sends the power the generate to more than 100 local power companies in seven states.
Tennessee’s population has jumped 9% from 2010 to 2020, forcing TVA to keep up with the demand.
“It’s a huge number,” Sartain said. “We are growing by leaps and bounds and it impacts our infrastructure across the board.”
The temperature plunging by 50 degrees in a matter of hours only added to the strain.
Sartain called TVA’s decision to do rolling blackouts a “calculated move” to save the rest of the grid from potential damage which could have taken weeks to repair.
A problem witnessed when working in Texas – that state had its electricity issues.
“Water damage, freezing, people displaced. It was pretty bad,” she listed a few of the problems.
Meanwhile, Sartain believes TVA made the right call. “I think they did the right thing by protecting their system, so that it wasn’t a long-term emergency.”
She continued, “When you think about a transformer at a substation, they are bigger than this room. They’re not just sitting around. If you blew something like that, that’s a significant repair.”
In the future, Sartain said the area of focus should be three-fold.
- Collecting data
- Planning for regular extreme weather
- Fully funding infrastructure
That could mean paying up.
“We always think, ‘Oh, my power bill went up a little bit.’ But, that might be needed so that they can build a new power plant, build resiliency, redundancy into the system,” she said.
TVA plans to keep up with the booming population by adding 10 to 14,000 megawatts to the system by 2030.