TVA CEO: US needs tech advances to reach carbon goals


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The head of America’s largest public utility said they are on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2035, short of President Joe Biden’s goal of a carbon pollution free power sector by that date.

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Atlantic Council, Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Jeff Lyash said Wednesday that to reach the 100% reduction goal, the utility will need technological advances in energy storage, carbon capture and small modular nuclear reactors, according to a transcript provided by TVA.

Lyash said TVA can reach an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 2005 levels “with existing technology and without raising price or adversely impacting reliability.” But to do that, it will need to extend the life of the utility’s existing nuclear fleet. The final 20% will be harder, especially considering the new energy demands that are expected from electrification of transportation, Lyash said.

Lyash sees small modular nuclear reactors as integral to that goal, saying government support is needed to push forward new technologies that are currently under development. The TVA in 2019 received a preliminary site permit for a small modular reactor near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the first such permit in the country.

“TVA is ready to lead in this area if the nation needs it to lead,” Lyash said, “and with the right level of support, we can build small modular reactors as a lead plant at the Clinch River site.”

“First-of-a-kind risk and cost are substantial,” Lyash said, but the investment would help the U.S. achieve a low-carbon future and create a valuable export.

In fiscal year 2020, the largest portion of TVA’s power came from nuclear, at 42%. Gas accounted for 28%, coal for 15% with hydro generation just behind at 12%. Only 3% of TVA’s power came from wind and solar.

Lyash does not see coal as part of the utility’s future, saying TVA will continue to phase it out over the next 15 years because its coal plants are reaching the end of their lives.

TVA was established by an act of Congress in 1933 to provide reliable, low-cost electricity; economic development; and environmental stewardship to the people of the Tennessee Valley. It currently provides power to nearly 10 million people in parts of seven Southern states and is the country’s third largest electricity generator.

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