The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) should cool its proposed, natural-gas-powered energy plant here with recycled waste water, not fresh water from the Memphis Sand Aquifir, according to Rep. Steve Cohen in a recent letter.
Cohen said the TVA should stick to its original plan to use waste water from Memphis Light Gas & Water to cool its plant, instead of pulling 3 million gallons of Memphis drinking water per day from the aquifer. Cohen called TVA’s new proposal “unprecedented.”
“The potential for increased pollution in the aquifer brought on by an increase in well-drilling and water-pumping has also been a matter of concern for residents and for leaders in the Tennessee environmental community,” Cohen said.
He said he’s in contact with TVA president Bill Johnson and TVA board members about the matter, not only about the move to tap the aquifer but also about the “the limited dissemination of public notice and lack of opportunity for public comment regarding TVA’s water usage decisions, and the potential for the degradation of the aquifer caused by well-drilling and water-pumping.”
Cohen said while the new energy plant could be an environmental and economic boon to Memphis, he hopes TVA will revert to its original plan to use waste water to cool it.
The TVA has three permits to drill wells into the aquifer already in-hand. Permits for the other two wells have been delayed as the Chickasaw Group of the Sierra Club asked for an appeal on them before the Shelby County Groundwater Control Board.
Here is Cohen’s letter in full:
Dear Mr. Strickland,
Thank you for contacting me to express your thoughts regarding the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) proposed use of water from the Memphis Sand Aquifer. Having been a Memphian for nearly my entire life, I understand what a precious resource the City of Memphis has in the Memphis Sand Aquifer. I appreciate your shared interest in this important issue.
As you may know, in April of 2011, the TVA entered into an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the states of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina, and three environmental advocacy groups, which requires the TVA to phase out older coal-fired plants by the year 2020 and to phase in cleaner, greener forms of energy.
Part of this agreement includes the reduction of carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions at the Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis. In order to achieve this reduction in harmful emissions, TVA has decided to invest more than $900 million in the City of Memphis to replace the Allen Fossil Plant’s coal-fired generators with a new natural gas plant (which will be named the “Allen Combined Cycle Plant”, or “Allen CC Plant”) that will provide Memphis and West Tennessee with cleaner, more affordable energy. I have commended TVA for its clean energy investment in Memphis, as well as for its commitment to reducing harmful emissions not only in our city but also across the entirety of its operating presence.
In April of 2016, TVA diverged from its originally-announced plans to utilize waste water to cool the new natural gas generators at the Allen CC Plant, and announced a decision to instead pursue the use of water from the Memphis Sand Aquifer. Many Memphians, including me, were concerned with this development—the prospect of TVA drawing in excess of 3,000,000 gallons of water each day from the aquifer is unprecedented. The potential for increased pollution in the aquifer brought on by an increase in well-drilling and water-pumping has also been a matter of concern for residents and for leaders in the Tennessee environmental community.
The Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, who have jurisdiction over well-drilling permits, have issued three permits to TVA to tap into the aquifer. TVA’s final two applications are on hold pending a hearing from the Shelby County Ground Water Quality Control Board.
Since issues concerning TVA’s pursuit of water from the Memphis Sand Aquifer were brought to my attention, I have remained in contact with TVA President Bill Johnson and with concerned Memphians and leaders of the Tennessee environmental community.
I have raised the concerns of 9th District residents—such as requests for clarification on TVA’s decision to pursue the use of fresh water as opposed to recycled waste water, the limited dissemination of public notice and lack of opportunity for public comment regarding TVA’s water usage decisions, and the potential for the degradation of the aquifer caused by well-drilling and water-pumping—with President Johnson and with the TVA Board of Directors, and will continue to do so.
The Allen CC Plant has the potential to serve as both an environmental and economic boon to Memphians, but I am committed to bringing the concerns of my constituency to the forefront as TVA and the City of Memphis move forward in completing the project. It is my hope that TVA will revert to their originally-proposed plans to utilize recycled waste water at the Allen CC Plant.
Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me regarding this important matter. Please rest assured that I will keep your thoughts and concerns in mind as I continue to advocate for TVA to change their direction in this decision regarding our fresh water.
As always, I remain.
Member of Congress