By Steve Seifried, TAEBC Board Member
(Originally published on The Knoxville News-Sentinel)
The sun is rising on a new day for Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
After six years, TVA president and CEO Bill Johnson retired recently. His successor is Jeffrey Lyash, who stands to take over the reins at a critical juncture for Tennessee’s economy and energy industry. It’s not your typical transfer of power: The ascent of the advanced energy industry hands TVA the keys to transform Tennessee into an economic powerhouse and position the utility as the energy company of the future.
Economic success is increasingly tied to energy options. Businesses of all sizes – from Fortune 100 companies to mom-and-pop stores – are setting sustainability goals and incorporating advanced energy into their processes and products, in concert with growing public awareness of energy usage and climate impact.
That’s great news for Tennessee, which is on the path to becoming the epicenter of advanced energy innovation.
Advanced energy powers Tennessee’s GDP: $39.7 billion
We sit on a war chest of unequaled energy assets: TVA, the nation’s largest public utility; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a world-leader in scientific discovery and energy research; and a business-friendly climate. This energy axis operates as an economic development and job creation machine, pulling in businesses and talent looking to invest and expand in our state.
Here’s what that looks like in concrete numbers: Advanced energy powers Tennessee’s gross domestic product to the tune of $39.7 billion, a 2018 report from the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) found. The industry is eclipsing even the overall economy in employment growth, employing close to 360,000 Tennesseans in positions generally paying more than the state’s average annual wage.
Whether Tennessee communities can continue to capitalize upon this lucrative industry and cement our place as a leader in the $1.4 trillion global advanced energy market depends, in large part, on what TVA and Lyash do next.
Advanced energy encompasses any technology that makes electricity or transportation cleaner, safer, more secure, or more efficient – it’s square in TVA’s wheelhouse. Even more, it’s central to TVA’s stated three-pronged mission of power generation, environmental stewardship, and economic development.
Grant local power providers and private industry easier access
We all have a stake in TVA’s embrace of advanced energy innovation, programs, and partners. By making it easier for companies to deploy advanced energy technologies and develop innovative energy solutions, TVA plays a central role in attracting and retaining talent and corporate investment in our state. Prioritizing advanced energy is vital to Tennessee’s economic development, and TVA is perfectly positioned to lead this critical initiative.
Former president Johnson will leave a legacy of general reception to advanced energy innovation, powering down aging and inefficient coal plants, launching programs to offer advanced energy options, investing in new energy technology and the next generation of energy entrepreneurs at ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads.
But there’s much to be done. While TVA’s draft 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) emphasizes some aspects of advanced energy, it stops short of fully embracing the industry in a way that would generate positive ripple effects across Tennessee’s and the Valley’s economy.
What may seem like a minor oversight today can have enormous repercussions down the road. TVA and Tennessee must not fall behind other states and regions who have positioned themselves to capitalize upon the energy of the future. The good news is that the time to strike is now.
Beginning with a commitment to flexibility and transparency, TVA should grant local power providers and private industry easier access to renewable and advanced energy generation. It should stay abreast of advanced energy trends and nurture them here in Tennessee, and deepen TVA’s investment into advanced energy resources.
TAEBC is committed to supporting TVA and its leadership under new chief Lyash to seize upon the opportunities offered by advanced energy. TVA’s commitment to advanced energy will directly benefit the utility itself, our overall economy, and every Tennessean.
Steve Seifried is an account executive with Ameresco and a board member of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.