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Groups hit agency on pricing and water tests.

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The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) played defense last week against groups claiming its energy pricing strategy was unfair and that it had, again, delayed the release of sensitive water tests.

Since 2011, TVA has been charging its residential and small business customers more while charging its industrial customers less, according to a report issued last week from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

The shift has added more than $1.4 billion to TVA's smaller customers over the last six years, according to the report prepared by Synapse Energy, a Massachusetts energy economics research firm. Now, the average TVA household is paying $110 more now than it did in 2011, the report said.

"It's a fact that many citizens, in particular citizens of color, in cities and rural areas across Tennessee, are having to choose between paying utilities bills rather than acquiring necessary food and medicines," said Jimmy Garland, vice president of the Tennessee State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

But TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said while his agency gave summaries of service studies to SACE, the numbers in its report were not verified by TVA. The agency is mandated to provide electricity at the lowest possible cost, he said.

Coal ash pond at TVA ‘s Memphis plant
  • Coal ash pond at TVA ‘s Memphis plant

"In the last five years, TVA has increased overall wholesale rates in small, measured increments to avoid putting an undue burden on our consumers," Brooks said. "Those increases have generally been below the rate of inflation."

In a separate move, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) chided the TVA for what it saw as another delay in the release of tests that could affect Memphis' drinking water.

Last year, TVA drilled five wells into the Memphis Sand Aquifer, the source of the city's drinking water. It planned to pump 3.5 million gallons of water from the aquifer every day to cool its new natural gas power plant here.

That plan was halted last year when groundwater tests near the wells found high levels of toxins, including lead and arsenic. The SELC and and the local Protect Our Aquifer group fear that the wells could draw those toxins into the city's drinking water. TVA ran the wells last year to test the water.

SELC attorney Amanda Garcia said TVA promised at the time to release the results by the end of that month but didn't. The agency, then, delayed the release of the results until January, she said. Through a state records requests, Garcia found a document that says TVA won't release the results until March.

"We are concerned that the public — and especially regulators — are not being made aware of the results of this test that is supposed to provide insights on whether the cooling water wells at the gas plant are safe to operate," Garcia said.

But Brooks, the TVA spokesman, said, simply, they don't have the results.

"[The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation] has asked that we put all the results together at once ...," Brooks said. "We're still awaiting the final results."

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