The biggest power company in the United States was created by Congress in 1933. It signed its first contract with a municipality on this date in 1934 and now provides energy to more than nine million people.
It was one of the government’s really good ideas during the Depression – it brought electricity to people who were still using kerosene lanterns and deforesting the hills to provide heat. They were the citizens of Appalachia for the most part and while their average income was about $690 a year, some lived on less than $100.
Power would surely make life better and power would definitely bring business – i.e., jobs – to the area. And the new agency would be empowered to create regulations, putting some constraints on a completely unregulated private sector industry.
So 15,000 families were displaced and dams were built, and the Tennessee Valley Authority was soon up and running. It brought the primitive living conditions of the area into the 20th century, and with the advent of WWII, it became a critical part of American infrastructure.
But that was then. It is hard, these days, to look at the map of the TVA’s 29 dams, three nuclear power plants (with six reactors) and 11 coal-fired power plants and feel that we are doing the best we can. Granted, TVA just made a deal to produce some wind power, but their many solar installations are mostly at schools and stadiums – and one at Dollywood for some reason – and most are in the 7-30kW range,
And then there’s the incident that occurred at the Kingston Fossil Plant three years ago – when an earth dike gave way and one billion gallons of highly toxic wet coal ash spilled out, covered 300 acres of land and leaked into the Emory and Clinch Rivers. It was the worst such spill ever. Details about the toxins spread both up and downstream are here.
The TVA was a great idea in 1933. Time to do better.
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Many happy returns to Eddie Izzard, born this date in 1962. I didn’t get him at first, but then I did. (NB: NSFWV or something like that….)