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GoGreenET Achievers nominations open

We're looking to tell the stories of companies that have made significant progress in recycling/waste reduction, energy efficiency, renewable energy and community outreach, or in another area we may not have even considered.


We're looking for a specific project, process change or initiative in each category that can be used as a model for other organizations.

The nomination form can be found here. The deadline to submit a nomination is March 20. 

Winners will be featured in the Greater Knoxville Business Journal's May issue.

 

Flexibility helps TVA keep prices down

By: Mamie Kuykendall

Customers of the Tennessee Valley Authority are paying lower rates than two-thirds of the country's energy consumers, and experts cite the agency's unusual structure as a major factor for the low costs.

"We are a unique bird, a federal corporation, which means the TVA board has the ability to set our rates without going to a public commission like others have to," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said. "They have to propose (changes) and make their case, while our board has the ability to set rates. That's the fundamental difference."

At 9 cents per kilowatt hour, TVA prices rank in the lower third of the top 100 utility retail rates in the country. Its industrial rates are lower than 85 percent of other agencies. This is partly because the TVA sets rates as low as possible to cover costs, according to Brooks, while investor-run utilities have to show profits for shareholders.

"We are not a profit-based company," Brooks said. "Any extra is returned back into our system. We don't have shareholders."

TVA's price increases have remained equal to 1.5 percent of retail rates each year for the past three, according to its website. This increase, in line with the cost of inflation, was made possible by the reduction of $600 million in operating costs over the same time span.

Generating sources and fuel costs are two factors primarily responsible for electricity price fluctuations, according to the website, and the agency generates electricity through a variety of means -- such as coal, natural gas and hydro -- to manage the price changes.

The agency uses different resources to meet fluctuating energy demands. For example, combustion turbine natural gas plants are used when loads are high, while nuclear and hydro power plants, which have the lowest costs, can be used full-time.

Electricity generation prices can be impacted by outside factors such as fuel costs and droughts, something that the diverse portfolio is able to offset. If there is not enough water to use hydro, coal can be substituted. These options allow the TVA to keep costs low, according to its website.

The agency plans to continue cost-control efforts in the years to come. An investment of $2 million to $3 million will be made over the next three years to maintain clean, safe energy, without an operating budget increase, according to the site.

The low rates are bringing billions of dollars to the Tennessee Valley, according to the TVA. In the first part of this fiscal year, $6.5 billion in investments were brought to the area, and more than 53,000 jobs were brought or retained.

Both businesses and individuals maintain a high level of interest in green living and energy conservation, according to Brooks.

The TVA, which provides electricity to seven states, is offering incentives in exchange for energy-efficient utility upgrades through its EnergyRight Solutions program. Founded in 2008, the program offers up to 10 cents per kilowatt hour saved for pre-approved projects, such as lighting, HVAC, and door and window upgrades, according to the TVA website.

In the Northeast region, businesses and industries collectively save about 30 million kilowatt-hours each year through the program, according to Tom Irwin, program manager for the Northeast region. These figures do not include residential savings.

"We've had a tremendous response to the program," Brooks said. "Part of the reason is that there is a demand for reducing energy bills and saving energy. We think that's a good thing."

Energy efficiency is important to the TVA, because it helps to avoid a heavy peak demand period, which would force the agency to build more power plants.

"The less energy needed, the less we have to pay for fuel to run our plants," Brooks said. "We've seen tremendous interest and response for homes, businesses and corporations all around the valley to help companies reduce their consumptions."

As a result, the TVA boasts one of the smallest carbon footprints of all Southeastern utilities, according to the website, and close to 55 percent of its generating sources are carbon free. The agency has invested around $6 billion in equipment for emission control, and it expects to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent in the next four years.

Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development, or SEEED, has backing of the Knoxville city officials and TVA to weatherize about 1,300 homes.

Next week the organization will present a workshop 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Morningside Community Center in East Knoxville to tell people how weatherization can help lower their utility bills.

SEEED, which runs career-training programs for youth, will be canvassing neighborhoods and handing out LED light bulbs with volunteer support.

The SEEED program comes out of an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, which found in 2013 that emergency utility payments go to roughly 10,000 households annually in the community, a cost that can run up to $5 million.

Those interested in the meeting or getting involved with SEEED can call the main office at 865-766-5185, or visit seeedknox.com.

Sustainability news roundup

The last few weeks have been a buzz of good news for Tennessee and the Knoxville area in general when it comes to sustainability and envrironmental awareness.  

1. More clean energy jobs

About 2,600 jobs were created last year by employers operating in the energy-efficiency, renewable-energy, clean-transportation, and greenhouse-gas management and accounting sectors -- an increase of 6.3 percent, according to the Clean Jobs Tennessee report. That's nearly triple the state's overall employment growth. Businesses told the report's authors they expect to fill an additional 2,500 positions by 2016.

2. TVA gets behind the Clean Power Plan

TVA is reviewing the more than 1,000 pages of new regulations released this month to regulate CO2 from existing power plants and a second rule that regulates emissions from new fossil plants, all part of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which calls for a 32 percent cut in greenhouse gases by American power plants by 2030, compared with 2005 emissions.  

"For our coal and gas fleet, this plan really won't have much impact at all," Brooks said. "Most of our decisions on which coal units to retire, etc., are already in place and being driven by a 2011 agreement between TVA and EPA. We have already reduced our carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels. It remains to be seen what the other impacts will be."

3. A new hotel is leading its brand, and possibly the state, in sustainability

The Knoxville location of Home2 Suites is unique among hotels in the Hilton chain and a sustainability leader in the Tennessee hospitality industry due to the investment in a full-roof solar array by property owner and Oak Ridge native Chandler Bhateja. Some other measures include recycling bins in every room and throughout the hotel's public areas, the use of recycled paper products whenever possible, low-flow faucets and energy-saving LED lighting with timers.

4. Sevier County is one step closer to zero waste in landfills

Sixty percent of all trash gathered in Sevier County, as well as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is recycled into compost. That's the highest recycle rate in Tennessee, and one of the highest nationwide, but two multimillion dollar projects on the horizon aim to get the county to 100 percent: new sorting equipment to remove recyclables from waste and a gasification system to convert waste into fuel.

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Employees of a Kingsport glass making company are saying they have not been paid, with one employee saying some haven't been paid for weeks and even then some of the paychecks have bounced, according to a story by Nick Shepherd of the Kingsport Times News.

Heritage Glass in Kingsport is the only U.S. manufacturuer of solar panel glass.

The Tennessee Department of Labor reports four wage complaints from employees.

That state of Tennessee will now share costs for farmers here to earn the USDA organic certification

Certified organic producers can apply to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture for a 75 percent cost share up to a maximum of $750 to help defray costs related to receiving and maintaining organic certification, including inspection costs. Organic operations that have achieved certification since October 1, 2014 meet the time qualification to seek reimbursement, as do organic operations that become certified between now and September 30, 2015.

Organic certification typically costs small farm producers between $600 and $1,000 annually. Costs increase based on product and sales volume.

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Starting next year, FEMA says it will only approve disaster preparedness funds to states whose governors approve hazard mitigation plans that factor in climate change.

This may put several Republican governors who maintain the earth isn't warming due to human activities, or prefer to do nothing about it, into a political bind, reports Katherine Bagley, with InsideClimate News.

Their position may block their states' access to hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA funds. Over the past five years, the agency has awarded an average $1 billion a year in grants to states and territories for taking steps to mitigate the effects of disasters.

Photo: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate speaks at FEMA headquarters in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson)

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This year the USDA's Rural Energy for America Program wants to spend more than $2 million in East Tennessee on its program to help deliver technology and economic opportunity to the rural parts of the country.

"It will be the most that we've ever had as far as funding we've actually got to spend," said Dan Beasley, director of business and cooperative programs for USDA Rural Development in a recent interview with Business Journal reporter Larisa Brass.

Last year the office had only 23 applications for the program, which provides up to 24 percent of project costs in grants and up to 75 percent in loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects to rural small businesses and agriculture-based businesses in either rural or urban settings. For more information on applications, see the USDA's Tennessee state page.

Projects in 14 East Tennessee counties have utilitized the program, including Holden Nursery in Mascot.

The owners used funding from the REAP program, along with TVA's Green Power Providers incentives, to install a solar generating system on their property.

Owner Kim Holden says the system pays for the company's electric bill and can produce far more in the summer.



Don't toss that tree! (or the lights)

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Christmas is behind us and many festive trees will soon be stripped of their finery.

If your tree is artificial, then back into storage (we hope!) it goes. But for those who chose a live tree, Knoxville and Knox County have disposal options to keep them out of our landfills and some organizations will also recycle trees and other items. Above, News Sentinel photographer Adam Lau photographed trees dropped off for recycling at Ijams Nature Center.

Knox County residents can drop off their tree anytime in January for free at one of five Knox County recycling centers. Just remove all ornaments, lights, wire, string and other decorations before bringing them to be tree-cycled and reused as mulch and other soil amendments. This option is also open to city of Knoxville residents.

Locations of Christmas Treecycling

  • Dutchtown Convenience Center - 10618 Dutchtown Road
  • Halls Convenience Center - 3608 Neal Drive
  • John Sevier Convenience Center - 1950 West John Sevier Highway
  • Powell Convenience Center - 7311 Morton View Lane
  • Tazewell Pike Convenience Center - 7201 Tazewell Pike

Christmas tree collection for city of Knoxville residents is the same process as for brush collection. Remove decorations and put your tree on the curb. Keep in mind it may stay there for a while -- the regular two-week brush pickup schedule won't resume until Feb. 1, according to the city website.  For faster removal, city residents can also take advantage of the Knox County recycling options above.

Other recycling options can help you give back to community organizations, or earn you a discount on next year's decorations.

When moving into it's new home, the owners of Three Rivers Market made energy efficiency and sustainability a priority.

Much of the old building was reused and new portions incorporated energy-conserving materials inside and out. Three Rivers has also long participated in TVA's Green Power Switch program, purchasing renewable energy.

As of June of this year, the co-op will also participate in TVA's Green Power Providers program, and generate some of its own power with new 50 kilowat solar panel installation on its roof.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Cortney Roark published on January 10, 2017 4:40 PM.

Grow Bioplastics named Sizzle TechStart's first incubator client was the previous entry in this blog.

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