Monday, January 26, 2009

TVA cleanup intensifies and so does the heat bill

Although the TVA ash spill has dropped out from the national news, there is still a major story here to be told. The local press continues to expose some facts and TVA continues to spin. All while TVA customers are paying and struggling with the highest bills in history.

TVA once prided itself on having the lowest or very near the lowest rates in the country. No more. Local reports are that some neighboring states that are not TVA controlled are paying half or less for the same amount of electricity. TVA says it's our fault. We haven't conserved enough. As if in these economic times there are a great number of people who can afford energy efficient appliances, heating systems and new homes.

This is what happens when centralized government monopolies without oversight from our 'representatives' are in control. Not a lot different than when private monopolies such as Enron and the oil companies have a license to steal.

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This property, with TVA's Kingston plant looming in the background, remains covered in sludge ash.

Restoring Area May Be the Biggest Challange

January 26, 2009

HARRIMAN, Tenn. — TVA is near the end of its first phase of response to a massive coal ash spill in East Tennessee last month, stabilizing and preventing further spread of the sludge at an estimated cost of $1 million a day.

The giant public utility is considering options for what could be the costliest, lengthiest and most complicated operations: removing the ash from land and water and restoring the area to pre-spill conditions.

One of the trickiest jobs could be removing the coal ash from the Emory River and possibly downstream on the Clinch River, both of which have pockets of radioactive materials buried in the riverbed that can be traced to splitting atoms for nuclear power and weapons development upstream at Oak Ridge decades ago.

Residents are concerned about where the ash will be put and whether, as TVA tries to move it, the materials can become airborne or move downstream and harm people or aquatic life.

TVA is developing plans and an official said it will soon move into the next phase, which would include dredging at a weir on the Emory built to capture coal ash.

"We're going to get the material out of the river," said Anda Ray, TVA's senior vice president of the Office of Environment and Research. "We're going to do the right thing, not the low-cost thing."

The cost of removing the ash will depend on the depth of the dredging in the streambed, whether the ash is allowed to dry out initially on a barge or at a land facility, and where the muck will go for disposal.

About 5.4 million cubic yards of ash sludge tumbled from TVA's aboveground combination pond/landfill when it ruptured on Dec. 22, knocking one nearby home off its foundations, downing trees and power lines, killing fish and sullying about 275 acres. It filled two inlets of the Emory.

Dredge risk downplayed

The Emory — along with the Clinch River, which it flows into, and the Lower Watts Bar Reservoir, which they both enter — still has pockets of sediment that holds radioactive cesium and a host of other ills from nuclear power production and weapons development at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Reservation several decades ago.

The lake was already off limits to commercial fishing because of the contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from unspecified sources, and the public has been warned for years not to eat striped bass from the lower Emory River and the Clinch.

A state advisory says no one should eat more than one meal a month of catfish or sauger from there, and pregnant women and children shouldn't eat the fish at all. The Clinch River has advisories on even more species.

Some environmentalists have pointed out that dredging could kick up sediment, but a committee of state, TVA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA officials that has to inspect any dredging requests in the area downriver of Oak Ridge has said the action would not be a problem in the Emory.

"Most of the sediment that's going to be dredged in any one given location is really not going to be that heavily contaminated," said John Shewairy, spokesman for the DOE office in Oak Ridge.

Eroding soil from development and other sites over the decades has buried much of the older sediment, with the higher concentrations of cesium found 8 to 32 inches deep.

Sampling over the years on the Emory has consistently shown cesium levels below the amount that would prohibit the sediment from being spread on agricultural lands, according to monitoring data that the group provided. That's the only requirement if levels are high.

Strontium, mercury and uranium were among the materials that regularly moved in the 1950s and 1960s from DOE's Oak Ridge Reservation via streams that flow into the Clinch River. With the Emory draining into the Clinch, materials have backed up into it also.

Testing historically showed only cesium levels were high enough to keep an eye on in the Emory, according to John Owsley with the state's DOE Oversight Office. The radioactivity, buried over the years, has weakened, he said.

More testing, however, would have to be carried out if ash is found in the Clinch that must be dredged, the interagency group said in a Jan. 15 letter to TVA.

The heavy part of the ash has not been found beyond the Emory, TVA's Ray said. However, lighter "cenospheres" the agency says are inert, hollow particles have floated miles downstream into the Clinch River and Watts Bar Reservoir on the Tennessee River.

The state, which must give permission for any dredging, wants swift action on the river cleanup.

more - The Tennessean

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TVA memo spins environmental impact of coal ash disaster

TVA's edited internal memo on coal ash disaster

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Tennessee fumes over high heating bills

Nashville-area utilities get record number of calls.

Customers of Nashville Electric Service who felt sticker shock when they received their December bills were not alone.

Across the Nashville region, electricity users have been hit with painful and surprising balances on bills. Utilities received record numbers of customer service calls as representatives explained that slightly higher rates, colder-than-average weather and increased energy usage contributed to the spike.

In recent weeks, many customers — thousands at NES alone — have expressed outrage over high bills or made arrangements to pay them late, as the seemingly overnight increase left many of them scratching their heads. Others have become more prudent about turning off lights and lowering thermostats when they are not home.

While the companies have little control over rates, Jones said, customers do have control over conserving energy: make sure their homes are weatherproofed and buy energy efficient appliances.

"The day has passed of leaving the light on when they leave the room," he said.

Tennessee has the 13th-highest consumption of electricity per capita.

Customer gets $304 bill

Hendersonville resident Mark Powelson was perplexed over the prices and his $304 electric bill for using 2,958 kilowatt-hours. His father a state away in Missouri used the same amount of power — though from a different electric company — and paid $128.

The rate increases that customers see are handed down to the utilities from TVA through cost adjustments, which are made quarterly.

"Is it fair? Are we being overcharged because of mismanagement and overrun costs that aren't necessary?" Powelson said. "It just seems to me that the rates have gotten so high and they shouldn't be."

Jones, of Middle Tennessee Electric, said Tennessee has among the lowest rates in the country. The average bill for the agency was about $155.

"Rates are still about 20 percent below the national average," Jones said. "We are somewhat spoiled with our rates."

Powelson wants to find out firsthand how Tennessee matches up. He is so determined to understand what is happening that he has asked friends and family from across the country to send him copies of their bills from places like Georgia, Maine, Indiana and Minnesota.

"My father in 15 years has not had a rate increase," he said. "If that electric company can do it and still profit, why can't TVA model that and do the same?"

P.D. Mynatt, spokesman for the Murfreesboro Electric Department, echoed his counterpart at Middle Tennessee Electric and said all utilities are busy educating customers on how to lower their bills.

Customers should weatherstrip windows and doors, and turn off or even unplug appliances not being used. Customers can also perform an energy audit on their homes or ask for a representative to do it.

"It is important for customers to utilize their energy wisely," Mynatt said.

Bills could get worse before they get better, he warned, because of a chilly January, when temperatures approached zero degrees some days.

"Customers should probably anticipate their bills will not be coming down, and if anything they may be going up," Mynatt said.

more - The Tennessean

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Although TVA and the local electric companies do a good job of keeping the electricity flowing, they have always wasted billions of dollars.

From 1977 to 1984, TVA was constructing a nuclear plant in Hartsville, TN. After spending at least $2 billion, the project was canceled. Maybe cancellation was a good thing but it never should have been started.

Having known a number of people who worked on this project, the horror stories they told were many. Not the least of which was the burying of possibly millions of dollars worth of equipment and materials on the site just to keep some of the costs covered up.

There also have been reports of clandestine government activities taking place at the Hartsville site. Whether true or not remains to be seen.

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