TVA CEO: US needs tech advances to reach carbon goals

The head of America’s largest public utility says they're on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2035

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Atlantic Council, Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Jeff Lyash said Wednesday that to reach the 100% reduction goal, the utility will need technological advances in energy storage, carbon capture and small modular nuclear reactors, according to a transcript provided by TVA.

Lyash sees small modular nuclear reactors as integral to that goal, saying government support is needed to push forward new technologies that are currently under development. The TVA in 2019 received a preliminary site permit for a small modular reactor near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the first such permit in the country.

“TVA is ready to lead in this area if the nation needs it to lead,” Lyash said, “and with the right level of support, we can build small modular reactors as a lead plant at the Clinch River site.”

“First-of-a-kind risk and cost are substantial,” Lyash said, but the investment would help the U.S. achieve a low-carbon future and create a valuable export.

In fiscal year 2020, the largest portion of TVA's power came from nuclear, at 42%. Gas accounted for 28%, coal for 15% with hydro generation just behind at 12%. Only 3% of TVA's power came from wind and solar.

Lyash does not see coal as part of the utility's future, saying TVA will continue to phase it out over the next 15 years because its coal plants are reaching the end of their lives.