Freeman challenges TVA to step up renewable energy game

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

Toward the end of what was billed as a public conversation with S. David Freeman, a young woman in the audience invited the former TVA director to come back to Knoxville Aug. 25 and rally a citizens’ group before they converge on a TVA board meeting to demand greater attention to energy efficiency.

“We would be honored if you would come speak to them, and it would draw more media attention,” said Amy Kelly of Appalachian Voices.

Freeman, who turned 90 in January and has managed more utility companies than anyone else in the country, smiled.

“How could I possibly say no to you?”

Freeman pushed to dismantle TVA’s nuclear energy program in favor of promoting renewable energy when he ran the agency during the Carter administration, and he found an enthusiastic audience last week when he came to town to visit old friends John and Nancy Stewart. He was also here to publicize his latest book, “All Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Happy Future,” and to issue a challenge to TVA to change its direction.

S. David Freeman talks with environmental activist Amy Kelly. In the background are Jim Ullrich and Robin Hill.  Photo by Keith Richardson
S. David Freeman talks with environmental activist Amy Kelly. In the background are Jim Ullrich and Robin Hill. Photo by Keith Richardson

He also sounded a warning about “two threats that could eliminate life as we know it” – nuclear energy and climate change.

He recalled the time when everybody worried about nuclear weapons. That’s not the case anymore, he said, because we “went around the world selling the idea that if you promise not to build a bomb, we’ll help you build a nuclear power plant. But after 50 years, we have learned that there’s no such thing as a peaceful atom. … Nuclear power has been the greatest failure in the energy field in my lifetime.”

Freeman said the only way to slow down climate change it is to reduce greenhouse gases.

“Nobody in their right mind debates that anymore. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Our family doctor – the climatologist – says we’ve got to get down to zero by 2050, or else everybody’s going to have to go and live at the North Pole. We’ve got to reduce greenhouse gases.”

Luckily, he said, the technology exists to provide unlimited renewable energy through wind and solar energy and storage facilities. But although its core mission is to provide low-cost power, TVA built the world’s most expensive power plant – Watts Bar – which, along with two other nuclear power plants, Brown’s Ferry and Sequoyah, produce about 30 percent of TVA energy.

Freeman said TVA and Georgia Power are the only utilities still putting money into nukes while others are investing in renewable energy production. Meanwhile, the only currently available low-cost power source, hydroelectric, has been de-emphasized.

“Howard Baker used to refer to TVA as a living laboratory,” Freeman said. “We must go to 100 percent renewable energy, and have an all-electric America by 2050. The cost of electricity will be driven lower and lower. TVA has an opportunity to provide a green yardstick that could improve life as we know it.”

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