Memphis is Tennessee’s largest city and is unique both geographically and demographically. Memphis is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) western-most hub and home to TVA’s largest distributor utility, Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), which places Memphis in a unique position to become a major player in transforming our region’s energy landscape. Memphis is also a “majority-minority city,’ with a population that is over 60% African-American. Like other cities where minorities make up the majority, Memphis has historically struggled with hypersegregation, racial discrimination, and other causes of urban decline, including concentrated areas of intensified poverty.
Since 1950, Memphis has also been home to TVA’s 990 megawatt coal-fired Allen Fossil Plant, which spews thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and other hazardous air pollutants into Memphis’s air every year, contributing to the city’s poor air quality and public health problems, such as high rates of asthma. (Memphis regularly shows up on national lists as one of the worst places to live for asthma sufferers.) The Allen facility has also created 417 million gallons of toxic coal ash that is polluting Memphis’s groundwater and is threatening drinking supplies.
Fortunately Memphis also boasts a strong community of activists who are ready to fight for cleaner air and water and a healthier lifestyle! SACE is working with Memphians to create unique solutions that will help them take advantage of the opportunities clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency offer for their communities!
SACE’s Energy Organizer (and Memphis local) Sandra Upchurch is working alongside our Research Attorney (and native Memphian) Angela Garrone to find ways to mobilize the community and to motivate MLGW to use its influence to push TVA to adopt policies that will help communities address their energy needs.
Sandra and Angela’s community outreach efforts have been a true motivating factor in some recent developments in and around Memphis. Along with SACE’s continued advocacy, they have helped create some significant momentum in the right direction!
- In August 2014, TVA’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to retire all three coal-fired units of the Allen Plant and to replace that energy capacity with a new 1,000 MW natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plant. This choice was influenced by SACE’s advocacy, including our comments filed on TVA’s draft Environmental Assessment for the Allen Plant, which called for a smaller capacity natural gas plant that would leave room for growth of clean, renewable energy resources in Memphis. TVA and MLGW have since acknowledged Memphis’ potential to become a true solar leader in our region. SACE is now working with our allies in the area to ensure that solar and wind become part of Memphis’ energy mix.
- In a parallel development, Houston-based Plains & Eastern Clean Line, LLC, is developing an electric transmission project to bring high capacity, clean wind energy from Oklahoma to the Southeast. In January 2015 the Tennessee Regulatory Authority approved Clean Line’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, giving the project some exciting momentum. This transmission line would enter the region just north of Memphis, creating another opportunity for Memphis to become a renewable energy hub over the next few years. SACE continues to work with TVA and Clean Line to ensure that the Clean Line project is completed and included in TVA’s long-term energy generation resources.
- In November 2014, Angela and Sandra both presented at the Sierra Club’s well-attended 13th annual Grassroots Community Conference. Sandra cohosted a panel entitled “The High Performance House: Your Health, the Environment and Money” along with energy efficiency expert Jack Cowan. Their presentation focused on educating homeowners on how they can cheaply and easily decrease their energy use. Angela’s panel “What’s Good About Dirty Energy?” focused on the negative health effects of coal plants and demonstrated how the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Clean Power Plan will help reduce our reliance on coal power and grow our clean energy economy.
- Sandra is also working within the community to bring members in front of City Council meetings or MLGW Board meetings to voice their support for increasing MLGW’s energy efficiency programs to include measure to address low-income energy equity issues.
We see a tremendous potential for the growth of clean energy resources in Memphis and believe that both the availability of solar resources in the area and the Clean Line wind proposal make Memphis a hotbed for a new clean energy economy. As SACE Executive Director Dr. Stephen A. Smith says, “Moving Memphis away from coal and along the path to positive energy choices is the best decision for both public health and the environment.” As the city embraces clean renewables and moves away from coal, its air and water quality will improve, and new jobs will be created for Memphians!