President Carter yesterday stated his effort to give the Tennessee Valley Authority a new direction by announcing that S. David Freeman would be nominated to fill the vacancy on the three-member board.

Freeman, 51, a former attorney for TVA who is now a top aide to administration energy chief James R. Schlesinger, has advocated that TVA return to its pace-setting role of the 1930s by demonstrating that the sun can be harnessed for electricity and that coal can be mined without ruining the land.

If the Senate confirms Freeman as expected, he could move up to chairmanship of the TVA when Aubrey Wagner retires in May. Then Carter could nominate like-minded executives to the remaining two spots on the TVA board that will open up between now and 1981.

A Carter appointed TVA could then address the complaints the President made against the authority several months ago. "The TVA program," Carter told a group of editors visiting the White House, "which used to be a very valuable demonstration project for progress and innovation has become dormant and just another power company in the last 15 years or so."

Enviromentalists and consumers have complained over the last few years that TVA has been charging householders inordinately high rates, strip mining coal recklessly, going overboard on nuclear power and building a dam - on the Tellico River in Tennessee - that was not needed.

In answer to these and oticiently public relations conscious to open meetings to the public and order a number of reforms, including more careful strip mining. But criticism persists.

Carter wants to make TVA, which Congress chartered in 1933, a national showcase for bold ideas in energy, ranging from new rate structures to conservation to solar energy.

He will be the first President since Franklin D. Roosevelt to have the opportunity to name all three TVA directors.

Freeman, of Chattanooga, Tenn., would move into a vacancy that has existed for two years. Wagner William L. Jenkins, finishes his nine-year term in1981 but has indicated he may resign before that.

The TVA started out as a bold experiment in flood control and economic uplift, with power regarded as a byproduct rather than the agency's main purpose company and biggest buyer of strip-minded coal.

Thweagency went from damming rivers to building coal-burning power plants for electricity to making huge investments i n nuclear power plants.

After its initial glory days, Presidents since Roosevelt paid little attention to TVA, headquartered in Knoxvilla, Tenn. Administration officials say Carter intends to change that, with Freeman's selection being the first step.