Sunday, January 11, 2009

More Potential TVA Problems?

Sanford Myers/The Tennessean

TVA engineers look out into the gypsum pond at the TVA Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Alabama Friday, January 9, 2009. The gypsum pond should look smooth, like in the background of the photo, instead of like a moonscape, as it does in the foreground.

TVA CEO hints of other coal ash sites with problems

From The Tennessean's Washington correspondent, Bill Theobald:

"At Thursday's Senate committee hearing on the huge coal ash spill in east Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Authority President Tom Kilgore said the utility had found one or two other retention ponds that might have trouble.

But Kilgore never said in the hearing where those are located and refused to say after the hearing. He said TVA was waiting to complete an assessment of all its coal ash retention ponds.

Kilgore said that wet spots were found on the walls of the other ponds."

I've asked the state's environment department if they know about these, and am awaiting reply.

The sites could be in Alabama or Kentucky, however, where TVA owns other coal-burning power plants.


TVA lets sludge into Ocoee River

TVA has released muddy sludge once again, this time on the Ocoee River in East Tennessee.

Efforts to repair one of a series of dams on the river released sediment into the rocky channel over the weekend, agency spokeswoman Barbara Martocci confirmed Thursday. The U.S. Forest Service discovered the problem Sunday.

Two days later, a section of the Ocoee River Gorge — a world-renowned location for whitewater sports and site of Olympic competition during the 1996 Atlanta games — was about half-filled with black, foul-smelling muck, said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environment and Conservation.

"In addition, Forest Service employees were walking the stream bank picking up what dead fish they could find," she said Thursday in an e-mail. "No live fish were seen." more


Toxic coal ash piles up in pond in 32 states

WASHINGTON — Millions of tons of toxic coal ash is piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a practice the government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has done nothing about.

An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to one that ruptured last month in Tennessee. On Friday, a pond at a northeastern Alabama power plant spilled a different material.

The Environmental Protection Agency eight years ago said it wanted to set a national standard for ponds or landfills used to dispose of wastes produced from burning coal.

The agency has yet to act.

As a result, coal ash ponds are subject to less regulation than landfills accepting household trash, even though the industry's own estimates show that ash ponds contain tens of thousands of pounds of toxic heavy metals. The EPA estimates that about 300 ponds for coal ash exist nationwide.

Without federal guidelines, regulation of the ash ponds varies by state. Most lack liners and have no monitors to ensure that ash and its contents don't seep into underground aquifers.

"There has been zero done by the EPA," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. more


Residents see TVA in shades of gray

From town hall-style meetings to Congressional hearing rooms, TVA execs have faced a barrage of criticism that is focused on the Dec. 22 incident, but it also reflects a long-held anger many East Tennesseans feel toward the agency.

Bruce Wheeler said that in a sense, TVA has always been "an agency of true believers."

"In the best sense of the term, these are missionaries," he said. "They are going to bring uplift to the valley. At the same time, they change the valley in ways that some people embrace, and then others do not. There's always going to be a cost that's attached to this."

For the agency's critics, one of those costs is pollution associated with coal-fired plants like the one in Kingston. TVA has been hit with lawsuits over its power plants, including a suit filed by the state of North Carolina that alleged that the state's economy and health have been damaged by emissions at TVA plants. TVA denied that emissions from its plants have contributed to those injuries, and the case went to trial in July, although a ruling has not been issued.

Melanie Duff said her family drives by the plant and sees smoke coming out of the stacks, "so we always think about that because of the kids."

For some people, the view of TVA depends on exactly which TVA you're talking about. Gail Sewell lives in a waterfront home that overlooks the Emory River, and her back porch has a front-row view of the sludge pile that's now sitting in the waterway.

In an interview on Wednesday, Sewell complained that while TVA is a government entity, CEO and president Tom Kilgore's compensation package is worth more than $3 million, and she blamed the disaster on a lack of oversight and maintenance.

For some East Tennesseans, the most bitter legacy of TVA is the land grab that preceded its power generation and economic development push. Roane County executive Mike Farmer said that "there's people still upset about losing farmland many, many years ago" and said his own father - born in 1922 - was alive during that period.

But when asked what his father says about TVA, Farmer said he recognizes it as "one of the major reasons that this area has developed."

"I mean, they grew up without power and … you know, there wasn't a lot going on here in the Tennessee Valley in the '20s," he added. more


Class Action Lawsuit

On Friday, several Roane County residents filed a class-action lawsuit against TVA in U.S. District Court.

The suit alleged that "TVA knew or should have known that the containment dike for the dredge cell impoundment at the Kingston Plant was likely to fail. The dike, which was constructed predominantly with coal ash sludge, was unlined, has had seeps since the 1980s, and suffered from recurring containment failures and other problems." more


I'm sure TVA is trying their best to clean up the mess but they have also announced that the costs will be on the backs of the customers.

A great number of people are already having problems paying their electric bill.

30,000 can't pay NES bills on time


Anthony Hardy is on disability, living on a fixed income. He is among the many trying to figure out how to manage the escalating utility rates announced by TVA.

A record 30,000 Nashville Electric Service customers — nearly 10 percent — sought payment arrangements on December bills sometimes double what they expected.

The utility's office was inundated with calls, spokesman Tim Hill said, often from customers who never had a problem paying on time.

Some customers say they're making choices between turning on the heat and meeting basic needs. Nashville resident Charlesetta Buchanan came up with $414 to pay her 87-year-old aunt's latest monthly electric bill, which typically runs about $130.

"It's become a choice between staying warm or eating," Buchanan said. "Or choose to stay warm over your medicine. This is not a one-time thing. With these rates, somebody is pocketing something."

Several factors came together in December to force bills higher, according to an NES statement:

• The Tennessee Valley Authority, where NES gets electricity, levied scheduled rate increases totaling 9.1 percent.

• TVA also passed on a fuel cost adjustment of more than 20 percent.

• The weather was colder in recent months than in November and December 2007.

• Because of the holidays and meter reading cycle, NES tacked an extra day onto bills.

NES serves about 355,000 customers in Davidson County and portions of other Middle Tennessee counties. The company will be more lenient for the next several months, spokesman Tim Hill said, with representatives deciding whether to grant 10-day extensions on the due date and waive late fees.

Residential customers were told to expect rate increases of up to $20, based on average usage of 1,320 kilowatt hours a month, beginning Oct. 1. But December overwhelmed many.

Anthony Hardy said his latest bill made him believe in conspiracy theories. In June, he went to the NES office to sign up for the monthly average payment plan so he could anticipate the bill amount on his 768-square-foot duplex — $158 a month.

His latest bill was $228.

"It's impossible for a place this big to use that much more electricity," Hardy said.

"We will have a 6 percent decrease, and it will be passed on to the customer," TVA spokesman Jim Allen said. "Coal went through the ceiling as well as natural gas. It's come down and coal leveled off."

The question for ratepayers now is how much of TVA's ash spill cleanup costs in Harriman, Tenn., will be passed along and when. The tab will cost tens of millions of dollars or more, and TVA Chairman Bill Sansom said last week that the cost will "get into rates sooner or later." more

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