The Great Energy Shift will not likely be legislated from Washington or emerge wholesale from a Silicon Valley garage. Rather it is happening in fits and starts in places like Arizona and Mississippi, where yesterday two utilities faced decisions on whether to fight the future or embrace it.
In a sign that the future will unfold in unexpected twists and turns, it was the coal-dependent Tennessee Valley Authority that made a bold move, while in sun-blasted Arizona the state’s big utility tried to short-circuit a solar boom.
The government-owned TVA serves some 9 million people in the heart of coal mining country in the southeastern United States, running a fleet of coal-fired power plants that have long been the source of cheap electricity. But yesterday, the TVA board of directors voted to shutter eight of those power plants, taking 3,000 megawatts of carbon-intensive electricity off the grid in the face of intense opposition from coal miners and politicians decrying “Obama’s war on coal.” That’s the equivalent electricity production of three huge nuclear power plants.
“These were difficult recommendations to make as they directly impact our employees and communities,” TVA chief executive Bill Johnson said in a statement. “TVA must respond immediately to challenging trends in lower power demand, a slow economy, uncertainty in commodity pricing, and tougher environmental requirements, particularly on air emissions.”