Keeping the Lights on in Polar Vortex Cold

GLENN McCULLOUGH JR.: Keeping the lights on in polar vortex cold

Last month (Jan. 24), TVA met a record-breaking winter demand for electricity, generating 33,345 megawatts as temperatures across the seven-state Tennessee Valley averaged 7 degrees Farenheit. This is TVA’s highest demand for electricity since the summer of 2007 (TVA records summer and winter peaks) and the third-highest demand for electricity in the TVA’s history.

Thanks to talented, dedicated men and women at TVA, 155 local power companies, large industrial customers and citizens’ conservation efforts, another record demand for electricity was met.

TVA generated 29 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants, 24 percent natural gas, 21 percent nuclear, 12 percent hydro and 2 percent wind generation while purchasing 12 percent from the power market to meet demand.

Looking ahead, TVA’s 20-year Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) calling for 40 percent nuclear, 20 percent coal, 20 percent natural gas and 20 percent hydro/renewable energy generation mix is a sound strategy to meet the energy, environmental and economic growth needs of more than 9 million people in the Tennessee Valley.

Today’s digital way of life is powered by electricity, so skilled professionals working 24/7, a diverse, strong generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure and cooperation between power companies, industry, business and residents is required to keep the lights on.

As polar vortex temperatures freeze North America, there is a hot debate in Washington as states challenge the EPA’s recent ruling to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants. European Union countries are at odds on how to reduce carbon emissions, what wind and solar generation mandates should be and how to generate affordable, reliable electricity to stem manufacturing job losses.

Japan is debating how to restart much-needed nuclear reactors while implementing plans to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the shale-gas rich U.S.

China, with 20 nuclear reactors operating today, has 28 advanced nuclear reactors under construction (the U.S. has five), is the world’s largest coal consumer, the largest CO2 emitter, and is aggressively expanding solar and hydro generation.

India slowly is evolving its energy policy to address subsidies that are not efficient, add advanced nuclear and diversify resources to address 1.2 billion Indians’ demand for energy, a cleaner environment and economic growth.

While the energy, environment, economy debate rages on our good planet Earth, Mississippi is a leader in clean coal technology implementation (see Kemper county plant), nuclear generation (see Grand Gulf nuclear station), enhanced oil recovery adding 2 million barrels oil per year, biomass energy, natural gas pipelines, solar technologies and rewarding careers in energy.

The Electric Power Research Institute PRISM/Merge analyses show that affordable, reliable energy, reduced harmful emissions including carbon dioxide for a cleaner environment and economic growth can be achieved through innovative diverse advanced generation technologies, energy efficiency, electric transportation and smart grid.

The key is a balance in the sometimes competing demands for energy, a cleaner environment for the next generation and more and better jobs today and tomorrow. The good news is that leaders in Mississippi are on the right track to achieve the energy, environmental and economic development balance that will enhance our future quality of life.

Glenn McCullough Jr. is a former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and a past mayor of Tupelo.