Stories from the Renew Tennessee Campaign

Brady Watson | March 27, 2020 | Energy Justice, Tennessee, Utilities

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy started the Renew Tennessee campaign back in 2018 with goals of lowering utility bills for Tennesseans most in need, increasing access to clean, renewable energy, and putting the “public” back in public power. Since then, people all over the state have taken a countless number of actions, attended multiple events, and gathered thousands of petition signatures to push for these goals. Let’s take a look back at campaign highlights and stories from Knoxville and Memphis residents.

Knoxville

KUB Freezes the Fees… For Now

A recent and hopeful outcome we’ve seen was in Knoxville. The  “Freeze the Fees” campaign was targeted towards the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) for its high, inequitable, and unjustified fixed fee on customers’ electric bills. This fixed fee appears every month as a flat fee, and customers are charged for it no matter how much energy a household uses. In 2010 customers were paying $6/month or $72/year in fixed fees on the electric portion of their bill. In the past ten years, that fee has tripled, and as of Fall 2019, customers are now paying $20.50/month or $246/year before they even flip on a light switch. This creates a situation that negatively impacts low-income residents who may not use much energy, but still get stuck paying high bills because of a mandatory fixed fee on their monthly electric bill – no matter how much they try to conserve energy.

Here’s a story from Shiawanna in Knoxville about how these fees impact her life:

“There are constant increases with the monopoly of KUB. My KUB [bill] is almost equal to my mortgage. How am I supposed to stay in my home with my kids without having 2 or 3 jobs?”

While the fees remain high, there is a reason to be hopeful. After the Renew Tennessee campaign turned up the heat on KUB with petitions and billboard ads, last Fall KUB previewed a budget forecast that did not include further increases to the basic mandatory charge or fixed fee portion of customers’ electric bills for at least two years.

The decision to freeze the fees for the next two years is not final. We believe that had it not been for the thousands of people who signed the freeze the fee petition, the hundreds who told us their energy burden stories, and the many who raised their voices at KUB board meetings, the KUB Board might not have paid attention to this issue and listened to their customer’s concerns. Thank you to our volunteers for contributing to this cause!

Knoxville Elects a Clean Energy Leader

Over the years, the Renew Tennessee campaign has shifted focus depending on what was happening at the local and state levels, including changes with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) which provides power for nearly every Tennessean. For example, Knoxville, elected Indya Kincannon as the City’s new mayor last November. Kincannon made climate and energy issues a key component of her campaign and continues to shine a spotlight on it since she’s taken office. Knoxville’s city council also passed carbon reduction goals under the previous mayor signaling real momentum to prioritize clean energy in the Scruffy City. Now that we have commitments from the mayor and city council, we’re asking for funding in the city budget to make it happen.

Take a look at some comments from folks in Knoxville below about why they are taking action:

“As a parent, I care deeply about cultivating renewable energy sources for my daughter’s generation. TVA is woefully behind the rest of the nation when it comes to investment in energy efficiency programs, and this regressive stance needs to shift.” – Amy, Knoxville

“As neighbors to the GSMNP, Knoxville has an obligation to maintain the environmental integrity of East TN and adopt responsible practices that promote our community’s sustainability goals.” – Heather, Knoxville

“We had a retirement home on the Emory River when the 2008 Kingston Steam Plant Ash Spill flowed past our back yard. TVA eventually bought us out and we moved to high ground in Union County. Five years ago we downsized and now live in Halls, Knoxville. We only have one Earth. We better be smart enough to make it sustainable.” – Dave, Knoxville

“I want to fight global warming and help the environment before it’s too late. It can be done but requires commitment and appropriate investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.” – V., Knoxville

“I believe that if we don’t start taking action, if we don’t start drastically curbing emissions and finding more sustainable energy sources, then the students that I teach every day will face a bleak future. As someone who wants to have children of my own someday, I want to go into motherhood knowing I did something to offer them a future.” – Mary, Knoxville

“Years ago a friend said pouring poison into one end of a swimming pool made the whole pool unsafe.  That is true with the air we breathe and the water we drink. It is up to us to speak out and not only protect our life, but make the world safe for others.  The Lord holds us responsible for taking care of the earth he gave us.” – Sylvia, Knoxville

“We will always continue to have high demands for energy but we can lead the way in cleaner initiatives that will leave our state and country healthier and safer! Stop polluting our beautiful streams, rivers, and lakes and reach forward towards solar, wind and water power!” – Caitlyn, Knoxville

“Would love to see more subsidies to put solar in homes.  We don’t have a roof or space that can be used for solar at the moment.  We plan on building a southern facing garage in the next 5 years.” – Mary, Knoxville

Right now we have the opportunity to take meaningful action. With the continued amplification of people’s voices, we know that we can drive the kind of clean energy agenda that will lift up all Knoxvillians.

Knoxville – take action with us and send a letter to City leaders asking them to prioritize clean energy and lower bills in the City budget.

Memphis Has The Power

Meanwhile, on the other end of the state, Memphis faces its own unique challenges. Memphians spend the highest percentage of their income on utilities of any major city in the country. BUT right now, residents have an opportunity to raise their voices and change that. Currently, Memphis’ utility provider, Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW) is contemplating leaving the TVA system and seeking alternative power. We at SACE believe that an opportunity exists to provide energy that is more affordable, equitable, and clean for all Memphians. Recent studies have shown the alternative power supplies MLGW is contemplating may help Memphians reach this opportunity better than TVA can and save the city of Memphis hundreds of millions of dollars per year. 

Here’s what some folks in Memphis have to say:

“I do not believe TVA puts enough interest in wind and solar energy. I do not think TVA puts its priorities into providing for our energy while keeping in minds the varied socio-economic levels of our citizens. I believe TVA would have the citizens of Memphis and elsewhere bear the burdens of its faulty decisions in its pursuit of nuclear energy.” Hunter, Memphis

“Memphis MLGW is over the top expensive for too many. I would like to see more clean energy such as windmills, solar energy and even water power used but no drilling into our aquifers.” – Suzanne, Memphis

“We need affordable electricity. I’m tired of getting ripped off every month when I barely use any electricity in my home. I’m always out and about. There’s no way I should keep being overcharged.” – Renee, Memphis

As a city that struggles with a high poverty rate and unaffordable bills, most Memphians are fed up with paying high electricity bills and believe TVA isn’t doing enough to provide the kind of affordable, clean energy that the city needs to thrive.

Memphis Has The Power to seek alternative energy from another supplier and break free from TVA.

If you live in Memphis – raise your voice and send a letter to elected officials letting them know YOU want to see lower energy bills, cleaner energy, and a healthier city for all Memphians.

We’ll continue to push for a brighter future for all Tennesseans – join the movement at RenewTN.org.

Brady Watson
Kansas native Brady Watson attended Kansas State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in History, and then a master’s degree in Documentary Film and History from Syracuse University.  After…
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