The Tennessee Valley Authority, attacked by its critics as an unimaginative utility that pursues cheap power to the exclusion of concern for the land an lives of the customers of its vast, seven-state service area, today sent a 65-page blueprint to President Carter for turning the giant federal corporation into "a model utility."
The proposals were developed at the President's request and would cost nearly a billion dollars to implement. The range from testing new exhaustscrubbing devices to remove the sulfur as coal is burned to devising new techniques to burn coal. It even proposes to demonstrate ways to cut and burn firewood for customers who want to substitute fireplaces for electric heaters.
The action comes just two weeks before former White House energy adviser S. David Freeman is scheduled to take a vacant seat on the three-member TVA board. Freeman, a Carter appointee, has been openly critical of TVA's defiance of clean air laws, its opposition to smoke stack scrubbers, it strip mining practices, its Tellico Dam Project that could eradicate a rare species of fish, its backing of fast-breeder nuclear reactor proposals, and its promotion of energy-intensive industry.
Agency insiders say TVA chairman Aubrey Wagner, who has held that post for 15 years, was taking the criticism in stride until Freeman called the Cinch River breeder reactor, a project strongly favored by Wagner, a "technological turkey." Freeman is expected to become chairman after Wagner's retirement next May.
TVA General Manager Lynn Seeber denied that the report was timed to anticipate the arrival of Freeman. He did say Freeman had been sent a copy of the report. In the proposals, the agency suggests that the deep mines it owns in Kentucky be used as demonstration sites for developing experiental mining techniques to produce coal more safely and efficiently.
United Mine Workers Union President Arnold Miller, citing TVA's role for three decades as the nation's largest coal buyer, has accused it of being "a public menace to the health and safety of coal miners" because it historically has placed emphasis on cheap coal prices and faster mine production.
Wagner said today that the proposal to have the TVA conduct coal-cleansing research would be of major benefit to the Eastern U.S. coalfields, the high sulphur content of which has caused some users to turn to lower sulfur coal in the West.
When a questioner asked Wagner if TVA's request for $361 million to test sulfur dioxide scrubbing devices was not incongruous in view of TVA's steadfast refusal to install them on its own smokestacks. Wagner rejoined that the representatives of the agency "have said scrubbers may be needed some day and the research should be done. What we opposes is putting scrubbers on wholesale on all units."
In the proposals, the TVA urged Carter to accelerate research on the fluidize-bed-combustion and magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) processes, both of which trap coal pollutants at the combustion stage in powerplants.
The agency asks for $530 million in federal funding for a 200-megawatt fluidize-bed-demonstration plant, and a 250-megawatt MHD plant.
In other proposals, the agency asked funding for a variety of on redesigning electric rates, experiments low-interest loans for home insulation, and the wood stove experiments, including a study of the "logistics of supplying wood fuel."
TVA is currently being sued in federal court by the Environmental Protection Agency, the states of Alabama and Kentucky, and citizens' groups that claim the agency is dragging its feet in cleaning up its sulfur dioxide emissions. EPA says TVA is responsible for 14 per cent of all sulfur dioxide emitted by utilities nationwide and 52 per cent for utilities in eight southeastern states.
Sulfur dioxide is a poisionous gas that the EPA claims causes lung disease, destroys crops and trees, and may contribute to climatic changes.