Tennessee Valley Authority: Additional Steps Needed to Prevent Weather-Related Outages

By Chase Smith
Chase Smith
Chase Smith
Chase is an award-winning journalist. He covers Tennessee and other parts of the Southeast for The Epoch Times.
February 3, 2023Updated: February 3, 2023

The nation’s largest public utility might not be up to the task of avoiding power failures in extreme weather conditions, a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims.

“The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) faces several climate-related risks … expected to affect TVA’s ability to generate and transmit electricity … that could affect TVA’s ability to keep electricity rates low,” the GAO report (pdf) stated. “For example, in 2010, a TVA substation was submerged in over five feet of water when 15 inches of rain fell in two days. TVA relocated the substation to higher ground, at a cost of about $9 million.”

The GAO claims the TVA hasn’t taken the necessary inventory of its assets and operations vulnerable to extreme weather. The GAO also says the TVA has not developed a resilience plan that identifies and prioritizes measures that address specific risks.

On Dec. 23 and 24, 2022, the TVA had to implement rolling blackouts due to historic demand caused by a “once-in-a-generation” winter storm that brought sustained single-digit temperatures across the states to which the TVA supplies power.

“With sustained record-breaking cold temperatures and high winds, winter storm Elliott strained power grids across the nation late last week,” the TVA said in a late December 2022 statement taking responsibility for power interruptions. “During a 24-hour period on Friday, Dec. 23, TVA supplied more power than at any other time in its nearly 90-year history.”

The agency also noted the targeted blackouts were the first the agency had ever done in its history due to the extreme power demand.

Temperatures and wind gusts affected protective structures around the TVA’s generating units, including the Cumberland Fossil Plant and some natural gas plants, according to the NBC affiliate in Knoxville, where the TVA’s headquarters are located.

The Cumberland plant went offline even due to the temperatures and winds, as well as gas plants, according to the outlet.

GAO Review

The TVA provides electricity to 10 million customers in seven states, including 153 local power companies and about 60 large industrial customers and federal facilities. It is the nation’s largest public utility and provides power through a variety of sources such as coal, hydroelectric power, and nuclear power.

The GAO presents three recommendations to the agency in order to be prepared for future extreme weather events like the ones from December 2022.

Epoch Times Photo
The TVA’s Appalachia Dam in Cherokee County, North Carolina. (Public domain)

The first recommendation is for the TVA’s CEO to direct staff to conduct an inventory of assets and operations vulnerable to climate change “that includes analyzing the likelihood and degree of damage or disruption from climate change and the likely consequences if specific climate effects were to occur.”

The second recommendation directs the TVA’s CEO to have staff develop a resilience plan that identifies and prioritizes measures to address “climate change vulnerabilities.”

The plan should include a portfolio of resilience measures and an action plan with specific directives as to which risks to address, and how and when to do so.

The final recommendation is that the TVA’s CEO should direct staff to establish plans for routine reassessments of the TVA resilience plan and incorporate updated info about changes that were implemented.

GAO Findings

The GAO said increases in temperatures and other “climate-related risks” will affect the TVA’s ability to generate and transmit electricity.

The GAO reviewed reports and interviewed stakeholders that revealed three incidents in which the TVA had to reduce power generation at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant because river temperatures were too high to receive discharge water from the plant without ecological risk.

The TVA has already taken steps to manage “climate-related risks” including relocating certain infrastructure to higher ground in places that were susceptible to flooding. It also created a Climate Action Adaptation and Resiliency Plan as part of its climate management.

“According to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) “Guide for Climate Change Resilience Planning,” conducting an inventory of assets and operations vulnerable to climate change can help utilities more accurately identify relevant hazards and the potential severity of disruptions to operations or damage to related infrastructure,” the GAO report stated. “This, in turn, would better position TVA to plan and implement appropriate actions to address climate change vulnerabilities as they become more acute, and as new and better information becomes available.”

The GAO said the study was needed because of “more frequent extreme weather events” stemming from “climate change.”

“Enhancing climate resilience means taking actions to reduce potential future losses by managing climate-related risks,” the GAO added.

The GAO reported that the TVA neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations. The TVA has thus far not responded to the report, but The Epoch Times reached out to it for comment.