Ulla-Britt Reeves is the clean air program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Although she is a native West Coaster, she has lived and worked in the East for six years. Before her job at SACE, Ulla worked for an international volunteer agency in Virginia.

Monday, 13 Nov 2000

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.

We had a lovely fall morning here in east Tennessee — the sunrise cast brilliant pink reflections across the patchy sky — the start of a good day. From my office window I can see the Great Smoky Mountains nearly 50 miles away. Clear visibility like this is unusual due to the frequently hazy skies around here, but when the winter high pressures come and dry, cold air moves in, we get a glimpse of the true beauty of the area’s geography.

As the clean air program director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) — formerly known as the Tennessee Valley Energy Reform Coalition — I work primarily on the coordination of the Tennessee Clean Air Task Force, which is part of a national campaign against dirty power. (I’ll be co-writing this diary week with our executive director, Stephen Smith.)

Here are our new turbines.

Today, SACE staff, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) representatives, and area media traveled to Buffalo Mountain just north of Oak Ridge, Tenn., in the Cumberland Mountains for a dedication ceremony to celebrate and announce the completion of a project to bring three state-of-the-art wind turbines online — the first such project in the Southeast. On Earth Day 2000 last April, the TVA rolled out its new renewable energy program, Green Power Switch (GPS). Green Power Switch is third-party-certified by the Center for Resource Solutions and designed to give TVA customers the opportunity to pay four dollars more on each monthly utility bill in order to receive clean energy. This isn’t a foreign concept to many folks in the U.S. these days, but this program is the first of its kind in the Southeast and was quite an accomplishment, given TVA’s reluctance in the early ’90s to offer renewable options.

SACE was the lead organization that helped GPS become as successful as it has been. We have three full-time staff equivalents working to promote GPS in the 12 distributor market areas participating in the program. Our task is to see that there is a 1 percent market penetration of GPS sales in the first year. TVA will then agree to a larger corporate commitment if we can show the demand in the valley is high for renewable energy. Although the overall size of the program is small (eight megawatts) in comparison to TVA’s total size and energy output (29,000 megawatts), we hope that this is a step in the right direction for penetrating the market and helping drive down the cost of renewable technologies in the future.

Our organization is nearly 20 years old if you trace its roots back to its inception as the Tennessee Valley Energy Coalition (TVEC) in the early 1980s. TVEC was originally designed to be an advocacy organization for ratepayers in the valley, as well as to track the environmental friendliness of TVA’s energy policies throughout the ’80s. Early program issues were tracking the overbuilding of TVA’s nuclear program and promoting conservation efficiency.

In the early 1990s, a group of regional environmental groups came together to refocus TVEC specifically on TVA energy policies. TVA, a federal entity created by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, has a mission to be the “power of the public good” and was designed to generate prosperity in the valley, provide affordable energy, and support the river system. But TVA is also the largest utility company in the U.S. with an enormous environmental footprint — 63 percent of its energy output comes from burning coal.

So in the early ’90s, TVEC’s name changed to Tennessee Valley Energy Reform Coalition (TVERC) and efforts were ramped up to choke off TVA funding of nuclear expansion. Stephen Smith became the executive director in the spring of 1993. TVERC fought furiously and became renowned as the TVA Watchdog group, as it worked to stop TVA’s plan to bring on six new nuclear plants (uranium reactors). The group was successful in blocking the expansion of four units: Bellefonte (two reactors), Watts Bar unit 2, and Brown’s Ferry unit 1, but Watts Bar unit 1 and Bellefonte unit 2 were completed.

In 1995, the organization focused on TVA’s long-range Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to place more focus on renewables and energy efficiency issues. TVA backed off its commitment to this program due to the threat of deregulation. Later, in 1998, TVERC and TVA rejoined efforts to successfully bring the Green Power Switch online.

It wasn’t a breeze to build these turbines.

In 1996-97, TVA came under attack from investor-owned utilities and threatened to back off of critical resource management issues in the valley. TVERC used its “watch dog” status to become involved in public land issues during this time. Recently, TVA created the Regional Resource Stewardship Council to seek advice from public and private sectors to “help TVA form strategies and policies and set priorities on the best practices for managing the natural resources of the Tennessee Valley.”

We’ve held onto the original mission of the organization “to keep TVA environmentally and economically accountable to the people it serves” throughout its ebb and flow of funding and programs, although recent changes have expanded our horizons. In 1997 we became involved as the lead organization of the Tennessee Clean Air Task Force working to clean up TVA’s coal-fired power plants and address air pollution issues in the valley. In 1998, Green Power Switch took off and has since become one of our largest program areas. In the spring of 2000, we changed our name to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to more accurately reflect the true nature and scope of our work (TVA’s service area touches seven states). The change also gives us the opportunity to use our successes with TVA to help spread renewables across the South and look for other ways we can encourage other utilities to change their energy policies.

Today is a significant day for Steve because it has been a long, slow battle for the past nine years to get TVA to commit to these turbines. To see the turbines turning gracefully in the wind today was both a beautiful and rewarding sight. A small but significant step forward.

This afternoon, at our staff meeting, we celebrated Libby Hill’s birthday. Libby, our associate director, turned 27 today. Libby joined SACE in the summer of 1999 having worked for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. She is the program director for the Green Power program. All our staff members are anxiously watching the outcome of the presidential election.