Undiversified: TVA’s Economic Development Problem, Failure to Invest in Energy Efficiency

It's time TVA showed it cares about the economic well-being of its existing customers and local communities by truly investing in energy efficiency.

Forest Bradley-Wright | May 5, 2023 | Energy Efficiency, Tennessee, Utilities

This blog post is part of our ongoing efforts to highlight five leadership opportunities the Tennessee Valley Authority Board members have to ensure the TVA uplifts people and communities throughout the Tennessee Valley by fulfilling the mission of providing affordable clean energy, economic development, and environmental stewardship.

TVA, the nation’s largest public utility spanning seven states, regularly touts its efforts to attract large companies to the region as a source of new revenue and job creation. Big business growth is important, but TVA’s economic development strategy is overly focused on recruiting new businesses with special rates. TVA could – and should – be doing at least as much to pursue economic development strategies for its existing customers and local communities. One of the best strategies for doing so is through expanded and sustained investment in energy efficiency.

Energy Efficiency is an Economic Development Engine

Energy efficiency improvements eliminate unnecessary energy waste, so customers can save on their monthly electricity bills. Those energy savings put more money in family budgets and more dollars circulating in local economies. Energy efficiency projects also expand job creation and workforce development for local residents, creating new income, career opportunities, and pathways for upward mobility. 

To track how our region’s utilities are investing in energy efficiency, each year the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy compiles efficiency performance data from nearly 500 electric utilities in the Southeast, comparing them based on annual efficiency savings as a percentage of total utility electric sales. The most recent data and analysis for 2021 are presented in our fifth annual “Energy Efficiency in the Southeast” report.

Unfortunately, TVA continues to head in the wrong direction with energy efficiency, and in 2021 fell to new lows with its annual energy efficiency savings tied for the bottom of Southeastern utilities alongside Alabama Power.

TVA’s Failure to Invest in Energy Efficiency is a Drag on Local Economies

Energy efficiency is a potential powerhouse for local economic development, and TVA’s continued failure to invest in it is costing customers dearly. The national average for utility energy efficiency performance is 68 times higher than efficiency savings at TVA.

Unnecessary energy waste and high energy bills hurt household finances, taking funds away from other basic necessities, and depriving local communities of much-needed economic resources. After years of underinvestment in energy efficiency, in 2018 TVA stopped offering efficiency rebate programs altogether, taking away a vital tool for families trying to lower their electric bills. 

Energy efficiency savings as a percentage of annual retail electric sales. Source: “Energy Efficiency in the Southeast” report, published March 2023, page 21.

Lack of investment in energy efficiency means increased energy waste, higher energy consumption, and higher energy bills. Tennessee’s residential electric customers consume 34% more electricity per month than the national average – the second-highest state in the country.

Energy efficiency opportunities are not only abundant, but they are also less expensive than power generation and can help us avoid the need for building ever more expensive power plants (paid for through our monthly energy bills). Unfortunately, TVA currently has no overall efficiency resource strategy and provides only minimal funding for low-income weatherization.

TVA’s failure to pursue energy efficiency was so alarming, it featured prominently in a congressional inquiry last year. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce questioned TVA’s lack of effort and overall poor energy efficiency program performance. TVA has promised to do more on energy efficiency, a promise it must now keep to show it cares about economic development for its customers and local communities.

Energy Efficiency has the Power to Multiply Job Growth

Energy efficiency already accounts for nearly 50,000 jobs in Tennessee, roughly half of all energy sector jobs in the state, but this number could be much higher with additional investment in efficiency by TVA. Energy efficiency is also a job growth multiplier. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, “Typically, the savings from energy efficiency yield even more jobs than the efficiency work itself. When this is all taken into account, the total number of jobs that are linked to energy efficiency is likely at least three times the number reported above. This is the power of energy efficiency. It helps us do more with less, creating a faster-growing, more stable economy and the dynamic job growth that comes with it.”

TVA is an enormously powerful utility and is the nation’s largest public power provider. It has used its power in pursuit of big business interests and in the name of economic development. Now TVA must show that it understands it also has a responsibility to pursue economic development in the interest of its local customers, too – starting with a substantial commitment to invest in energy efficiency. 

For more information on the five key objectives for TVA, including supporting resources, please click here.

To view SACE’s fifth annual “Energy Efficiency in the Southeast” report, watch the webinar, or see the report blog series, please click the resources below.

Watch the Webinar Read the Report Read the Report Blog Series

#EEReport2023 #TVABoardOpporotunities

Forest Bradley-Wright
This blog was written by a former staff member of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
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