Power systems under stress

TVA is asking customers to conserve:

The Tennessee Valley Authority urged consumers in its seven-state territory to conserve electricity Wednesday as a heat wave continued to grip the eastern United States.

The nation's largest public utility asked its 8.6 million consumers to be "prudent in their use of electricity over the next few days" as a combination of hot temperatures and humidity over the region pushed the heat index to triple digits in many places.

Homes and businesses were asked to turn up thermostats and turn off unnecessary lights and appliances, especially during the hottest times of the day between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. EDT.


[The] TVA system delivered more than 31,600 megawatts, the highest power load ever for the month of August, as the valley's average temperature hit 95 degrees.

TVA's all-time record of 32,037 megawatts was set only two weeks earlier on July 18.

According to the article, TVA imposed voluntary outages at several industrial customers this week for the first time since 2003.

TVA provides power to customers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. More than 60% of TVA's power output comes from coal-fired power plants. You can imagine how much air pollution is being generated right now, including massive amounts of CO2 which is believed to contribute to global warming and climate change, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. As temperatures rise, we use more coal to keep cool, causing the temperatures to rise, and so on.

There is a lot of coal in the ground. The energy industry will keep using it until it's all used up. (As Al Gore said, the argument over "peak oil" and other energy reserves is irrelevant. "We have more than enough oil, not to mention coal, to completely destroy the habitability of the planet," says Gore.) What we need to do is find cleaner ways to burn it, and ways to mine it that are less destructive to the environment.

One thing we can do in the mean time is to conserve. TVA should be commended for getting this message out. On the other hand, state and local governments have for years been promoting an abundance of cheap TVA power as an incentive to lure business and industry to the South.

TVA and other power producers should be promoting conservation year-round, not just during heat waves and cold spells. (Unfortunately, in the case of for-profit power producers other than TVA, conservation is completely contrary to the shareholder's bottom line interests.) And we should take a hard look at policies that subsidize corporations at the expense of our environment.