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Norris Tweets Dig at Dems on Solyndra Setback

Everything under the sun seems to be open to squabbles over jobs between Republicans and Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature. Now it’s solar panels.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris tweeted Tuesday night, “Solyndra’s shadow as Dems plan to tour Bredesen’s solar farm.” Norris linked to a recent Nashville Business Journal article noting that solar businesses either seem to be starting up or fading away.

Solyndra, based in Fremont, Calif., specializes in rooftop solar power systems. The company received a loan of $535 million in 2009 as part of the federal stimulus package and has been lauded by the Obama administration as an example of the nation’s energy future.

But the company has shut down, laid off hundreds of workers and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company also faces a federal investigation. The House Energy and Commerce oversight committee is scheduled to begin hearings on Solyndra on Wednesday, but Solyndra executives have postponed their appearance, citing the bankruptcy proceedings. A column posted Tuesday night on Politico called the Solyndra venture “corporate favoritism” and “Chicago-style deal-making.”

Norris picked up on the Solyndra news as a further dig at Democrats, who plan to make the West Tennessee Solar Farm with Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith part of their jobs tour Sept. 19-24.

The Solar Farm is on the first day of the Democrats’ tour, right after a tour of the vacant West Tennessee megasite. The solar farm, near Interstate 40, is part of the Volunteer State Solar Initiative of former Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Norris responded to the Democrats’ jobs tour announcement early this month by calling it the “Obama Apology Tour.”

But in February, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam expressed his pleasure that the U.S. Department of Energy had cleared the path for the solar farm, citing Tennessee’s commitment to a clean energy future.

“It’s a tangible demonstration that jobs and investment in this fast-growing sector of our economy are welcome in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a formal statement at the time.

In the same announcement, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said, “We’ve seen billions of dollars in capital investment in the solar industry alone in Tennessee. Coupled with the investments we’re seeing in energy efficiency, sustainable transportation and other forms of clean energy, the clean energy sector has the potential to truly become a bright spot for Tennessee in terms of job growth.”

Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander recently visited another Bredesen-linked project, the ethanol-from-switchgrass process in Vonore, Tenn., after which both the governor and the senator expressed support for the business but limited interest in subsidies for it.

Sen. Tracy Announces Grant Incentives for Energy Efficiency Programs in Murfreesboro Schools

Press Release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus, Dec. 2, 2010:

(NASHVILLE, TN), December 2, 2010 – Local State Senator Jim Tracy announced today that the Murfreesboro City Schools District has been awarded $120,000 in grant incentive funds from Tennessee’s Energy Efficient Schools Initiative (EESI). The funds will be used to install an energy efficient HVACs at Cason Lane Academy and Erma Siegel Elementary School.

“This grant will save taxpayer money by helping with school utility costs,” said Senator Tracy. “I know our schools need every dollar that can be squeezed as their budgets are very tight.”

The General Assembly is recognized for the legislation that is assisting all school districts to become more energy efficient, resulting in lower operating costs and creating a healthier and safer learning environment. The Initiative is also retaining and creating jobs in Tennessee, both in the manufacturing sector in Tennessee as well as equipment vendors, contract labor for equipment installation, local equipment sales, etc.

For more information about the Energy Efficient Schools Initiative, please visit www.tn.gov/eesi.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey Names Appointee To Energy Efficient Schools Panel

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; Aug. 17, 2010:

(Nashville) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) has appointed Rutherford County Schools Assistant Superintendent for Engineering and Construction Gary Clardy to the Energy Efficient Schools Initiative (EESI). EESI provides funds to K-12 schools for energy efficiency projects. It approves technical guidelines and provides assistance such as energy audits and energy benchmarking at no cost to schools.

“Building energy efficient schools saves money that can go directly into the classroom to improve a child’s education,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Gary Clardy has extensive experience in building and maintaining schools that save money on energy costs. He will be an excellent addition to the Energy Efficient Schools Initiative.”

Mr. Clardy serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Engineering and Construction for Rutherford County Schools, a school system with 44 schools and over 34,000 students. A Tennessee native, Mr. Clardy is a Civil Engineer and is a graduate of Tennessee Technological University.

On the web:

http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/senate/speaker.html

http://www.tn.gov/eesi/index.shtml

Bredesen Announces Job Recruitment Trip to Germany, Spain

State of Tennessee Press Release; June 4, 2010:

Governor, Commissioner to Meet with Volkswagen, Potential Suppliers, Clean Energy Experts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Governor Phil Bredesen and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber today announced they will travel to Germany and Spain June 13-19 to meet with officials from Volkswagen and potential Volkswagen suppliers who may have an interest in developing manufacturing or distribution facilities in Tennessee. The Governor and Commissioner will hold discussions in Berlin and Wolfsburg, Germany, then travel to Barcelona, Spain.

“Since Volkswagen’s announcement in 2008, we’ve focused our job creation efforts on maximizing the jobs created by that $1 billion investment,” said Governor Bredesen. “We’re working to expand the ripple effect of that ‘anchor project’ across Tennessee’s economy.”

In addition to the focus on Volkswagen and its suppliers, the Governor and Commissioner will also be meeting with trade and business development officials in Spain, especially those focusing on the clean energy economy. The trip comes after Spanish Consul General Miguel Angel Fernandez de Mazarambroz met with Commissioner Kisber to discuss potential trade openings between Tennessee and Spain in April. While visiting Spain, Governor Bredesen will hold high level talks with senior government officials from the Spanish state of Catalonia and from the Spanish Energy Ministry.

“Tennessee has developed a strong reputation in the development of solar and other renewable technologies,” said Commissioner Kisber. “The Pew Center for the States has called Tennessee ‘one of the three fastest growing states in the U.S.’ for clean energy jobs and we want Spanish companies to know that if they plan to enter the growing American clean energy market, Tennessee is the best place to locate.”

Germany is Tennessee’s 6th largest trading partner, having purchased more than $620 million in goods and services from Tennessee companies in 2009. Spain is Tennessee’s 18th largest trading partner, purchasing more than $200 million in Tennessee goods and services.

Accompanying the Governor and Commissioner Kisber will be Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr and Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz. In the early part of the last decade, Spain established tax and governmental policies which generated explosive growth in the Spanish solar industry, followed by retrenchment as government subsidies shrank. The Tennessee delegation hopes to learn from Spain’s experience in solar development.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s mission is to create higher skilled, better paying jobs for all Tennesseans. The department seeks to attract new corporate investment in Tennessee and works with Tennessee companies to facilitate expansion and economic growth. To find out more, go to www.tnecd.gov or www.investtennessee.org.

Republicans Energized about Nuclear Power; Democrats by Green Jobs

All four Republican candidates for governor expressed support Wednesday for ramping up nuclear power as part of the state’s energy future in a forum before the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

Two Democratic candidates spoke in a separate session with members of the organization prior to the Republicans taking their turn at a downtown Nashville forum Wednesday. The Democrats were not asked about nuclear energy, but they addressed green energy as a vital part of the state’s economic future.

Republicans were asked specifically about coal and nuclear power. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, from Blountville, said the nation took a wrong turn on nuclear energy decades ago.

“One of the worst mistakes we’ve ever made in this country, in the late 1970s, was turning away from nuclear energy,” Ramsey said. “I had a chance to go to work building one of those plants, yet we mothballed that and we’ve gone backward. We need to look at nuclear energy, coal and natural gas. Green energy is all well and good, but it’s going to be a small percentage. We’ve got to know when you turn the light switch on that the lights will come on.”

Ramsey said the state should continue to rely on coal and find the best ways to obtain it.

“We have to rely on good science. I mentioned that before at a forum and got criticized,” Ramsey said. “I’m opposed to mountaintop removal, but at the same time there are ways of getting to that coal, and we need to do it. Alternative fuels are out there but a lot is down the road. We’ve got 100 years of reserves in the ground, and that’s going to help us be energy independent.”

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said the approach should be to pursue a policy that includes nuclear power, solar power and wind power.

“But we also need to use less,” Haslam said. “In Knoxville, we looked at our own energy use, not only as good stewards of the environment, but we saved money. As a country, we do have to consider producing more energy domestically.”

Bill Gibbons, Shelby County district attorney general, said a diverse energy policy is needed and said Gov. Phil Bredesen has taken the state in the right direction with energy technology.

“We also need nuclear energy. We’ve got to be realistic about that,” Gibbons said. “It’s a clean source of energy. We’ve got to have that as part of the mix.”

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga complimented the Obama administration for its openness to nuclear energy.

“We need to build another hundred nuclear reactors as a nation in the next 20 years,” Wamp said.

Referring to both President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Wamp said, “I’m frankly glad they realize if they want to meet any of their carbon goals they have to have an ambitious nuclear plan, and I think they’re starting to get that drift.”

Democrats Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, and Kim McMillan, a former state legislator and aide to Bredesen, pointed to the potential in jobs related to new investment in polycrystalline silicon in the state. Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie are making large investments in Tennessee. Both Democrats said the focus should be on attracting suppliers for those companies. Hemlock will be in Montgomery County, Wacker in Bradley County.

“We’re all very proud of the work Governor Bredesen has done in green energy,” McMillan said. “That is the job of the future. We need to bring in other satellite industries to feed off them. That’s where the growth will be. We can grow this economy by focusing on the green energy field. I’m excited about the possibility of becoming the Silicon Valley of the South.”

McWherter found a bright spot to talk about.

“In so many ways, Tennessee lags many other states, but I want to brag on Tennessee,” McWherter said. “We’re among the top three states in creating clean energy jobs. They are Oregon, Colorado and Tennessee. That’s a great accomplishment. That’s a position I want to see Tennessee stay in.

“The suppliers that will come in for Hemlock and Wacker will want to locate in a corridor between Clarksville and Chattanooga. What we’ve got to do is go out and actively recruit those supplying industries for those two signature companies. As your next governor, I assure you I will go after those industries very aggressively.”

McWherter said all Tennesseans are invested in those companies, given the tax incentives that attracted them to the state.

“I don’t care where you live in Tennessee, you’ve got an investment in Volkswagen and Wacker and Hemlock. You pay taxes, and we have given tax incentives. You’ve got an investment,” McWherter said.

“The way to get a return is to go out and capture these supplying industries. Once we get those industries in here, they will employ people,” he added. “That makes their employees consumers, and that helps the revenue situation for everyone across the state. It is imperative that the next governor knows to go out and recruit those supplying industries.”

Group: TVA Should No Longer Get to Evade Environmental Laws, Marketplace Competition

Environmental Integrity Project Press Release, Dec. 14, 2009:

As 1st Anniversary of Kingston Coal Ash Spill Nears, EIP Report Exposes TVA’s Pollution, Poor Environmental Track Record, and Reveals How TVA Avoids Compliance with Federal Environmental Laws; EIP and Top Groups Call on White House to Reform TVA.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight decades after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to bring power to the southeastern United States, the TVA should no longer be exempt from federal environmental enforcement and the healthy influence of competition in its region, according to a major new report released today by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (pdf).

In a separate letter to the White House, EIP and leading national and southeastern U.S. environmental organizations urged the Obama Administration and Congress to take action to reform the TVA. (See below.)

The new EIP report — titled “Outside the Law: Restoring Accountability to the Tennessee Valley Authority” – details how the TVA has emerged as one of the nation’s worst polluters by exploiting its special status as a federal corporation to sidestep federal regulation, avoid fines that other utilities are required to pay, and delay solutions to known environmental problems at Kingston and other TVA coal plants. Although both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the TVA Inspector General (IG) have documented numerous violations of environmental law, the Justice Department has never taken this utility to court. Although this utility is virtually independent, completely self-financing, and responsible under the law for its own legal defenses, it has been allowed to hide behind legal doctrines meant to protect federal agencies and U.S. taxpayers.

The EIP report notes: “… the evidence in this report reveals that the Kingston spill is only the latest and most dramatic example of environmental mismanagement at one of the nation’s largest utilities. President Roosevelt established TVA nearly eighty years ago as a public utility dedicated to progressive management on behalf of the public interest, but TVA’s environmental record and conduct in recent years mock the vision that inspired its founding.”

In releasing the new report, Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer said: “It is time to reform the Tennessee Valley Authority and make it fully accountable for environmental misconduct. Any other utility that spilled a billion gallons of coal ash into a river would face certain federal prosecution, but the Justice Department won’t file a case against TVA. Legal doctrines that limit enforcement actions against other federal agencies shouldn’t apply to this behemoth, which by law is completely responsible for its own legal defenses, and which is financed by its own ratepayers, not the U.S. Treasury. It’s time for TVA to be treated like its competitors, and to expect prosecution for violating environmental laws.”

The EIP report points out:

  • TVA’s own Inspector General found that TVA negligence contributed to the Kingston disaster, and that TVA avoided full transparency to limit litigation following the spill.
  • TVA intended to transition its coal waste ponds from wet-to-dry systems over 20 years ago, a move that could have averted the coal ash disasters at both Kingston and Widows Creek and curb TVA’s harmful water discharges. However, no such action was taken and TVA reported to EPA that it discharged 3,433,291 pounds of toxic pollutants into surface waters in 2008 alone.
  • The TVA IG also found that TVA bypassed air emission controls at the Cumberland, Widows Creek and Bull Run coal plants, resulting in well over a thousand tons of illegal emissions. According to the IG reports, TVA delayed fixing the problem or reporting the emissions to regulatory authorities.
  • TVA is home to some of the oldest and least efficient coal plants in the U.S., and spends less on maintenance than many of its competitors. Unlike some utilities, there is little evidence that TVA is making the transition toward cleaner, low carbon source of electricity—its recalcitrance may be aided by federal law that prohibits competition within TVA’s service area.
  • Equally troubling, TVA repeatedly invokes its status as a “federal” agency to avoid responsibility for its own environmental misconduct. TVA raises issues of federal “sovereign immunity” to avoid penalties in environmental enforcement cases filed by citizens in federal court, yet TVA does not receive federal funds or tax dollars drawn from the U.S. Treasury. Limitations on the ability to recover penalties from federal agencies are supposed to protect the taxpayer— but TVA is completely self-financing, and has not received federal appropriations in decades; any fines paid by TVA need not come from the U.S. Treasury.

Robert Dreher, senior vice president for conservation law and climate change, Defenders of Wildlife, said: “Even looking beyond TVA’s recent coal ash spills and troubling record of environmental mismanagement, TVA should not be able to undermine the integrity of the legal process by claiming immunity to the enforcement of environmental laws. No corporation or agency should be above the law, especially at the expense of the environmental well-being of our citizens, wildlife and waters.”

Renée Victoria Hoyos, executive director, Tennessee Clean Water Network, said: “TVA needs reform. The disaster of December 22, 2008 and the subsequent handling of the issue demonstrated to us that TVA must be formally regulated by the US EPA like any other utility. I hope that this Administration will implement the recommendations of this report. It is simply the right thing to do.”

A separate letter sent today to the White House by EIP and over a dozen additional groups, including the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Appalachian Voices, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc., Tennessee Environmental Council, United Mountain Defense, Cumberland Stewards, and Solar Valley Coalition, urges President Obama to take action to reform TVA.

The joint letter states: “We write to respectfully request that your Administration clarify that TVA is not immune from federal prosecution for the Kingston spill and other violations of federal law. We ask also that the Directors you appoint to lead TVA pledge to take specific actions to reform the agency and reduce its reliance on dirty coal-fired power plants … TVA has become little more than giant electric utility unchecked by the regulatory agencies that manage electric power production and protect the public in most of the rest of the country. The Kingston coal ash spill is only the latest and most dramatic example of environmental mismanagement at one of the nation’s largest utilities.”

The full text of the joint letter to the Obama White House is available online.

RECOMMENDED ACTION STEPS

The EIP report recommends the following steps to restore accountability at the TVA:

  • Clarify that EPA and the Justice Department Can Take TVA to Court. A directive from the White House, clarifying that the “unitary executive” theory does not prevent EPA and DOJ from taking enforcement action against TVA will help bring TVA into compliance with federal environmental laws and resolve environmental violations that have lingered for years.
  • Support Legislation to Eliminate TVA’s Special Protections. The White House and Congress should support legislation to remove TVA’s special protections, such as immunity from penalties for environmental violations, and anti-competitive measures that keep rival utilities out of its service area. TVA no longer relies on tax dollars or federal appropriations and therefore, should be as accountable as any other utility for its environmental wrongdoing.
  • Increase Environmental Oversight. Congress can play a critical role in reforming TVA through its oversight authority. The House and Senate Committees charged with TVA oversight have held multiple hearings regarding the Kingston spill, but long-term oversight of TVA’s environmental management is needed to prevent another disaster and transform TVA into a national example of environmental sustainability and clean energy production.

The EIP report recommends the following steps to reduce TVA’s environmental footprint:

  • Create a Culture of Environmental Compliance. TVA’s large and dirty environmental “footprint” is a product of its internal culture of neglect and cost-saving decisions made at the expense of the environment. Even TVA’s own inspector general reported that TVA’s “litigation strategy seems to have prevailed over transparency and accountability,” after the Kingston spill. However, the President has an opportunity to change TVA’s internal culture from the top down, starting with the appointment of new leadership to TVA’s Board of Directors. As of December 2009, President Obama named two new nominees to TVA’s nine-member Board of Directors. New Board nominees should pledge to take the specific actions below to establish greater transparency and environmental compliance at every level of TVA’s operations.
  • Switch From Wet to Dry Coal Waste Disposal and Stop Toxic Discharges. TVA must transition its wet CCW storage ponds to dry disposal systems in the immediate future. TVA promised to make this transition over 20 years ago and recently promised again to convert its wet CCW ponds to dry storage after the Kingston spill. Yet TVA owns wet coal waste impoundment at all of its coal plants, and still has not produced a timeline by which each plant will transition from wet to dry, zero-discharge systems in the near future.
  • Transition from Coal to Clean, Renewable Energy. TVA must decide whether to make investments in its aging coal-fired fleet or simply retire the oldest, most underperforming units.

To see the full text of the EIP report, go to http://www.environmentalintegrity.org.