Sierra Club Launches Dirty Truth Report Exposing Utility ‘Greenwashing’ on Climate Pledges

TVA at the top of the list of worst utilities nationwide.

Ricky Junquera,

TENNESSEE - Today, The Sierra Club released the second version of their Dirty Truth Report. A year and a half ago, the organization analyzed the plans of 77 utilities owned by the 50 companies most invested in fossil fuel generation and found that while the majority of the utilities had stated goals of significant carbon reduction over the next few decades, there was a colossal gap between their ongoing practices and the steps they need to take to avert climate disaster. 

In the second version of the report, Sierra Club investigated what progress, if any, has been made since the last utility report card to retire coal plants, stop building new gas plants, and build clean energy in the next, crucial decade. The results are disappointing but not surprising.

While utilities have focused on generating massive profits and maintaining the status quo over the year and a half since the last report, calls for a transition to clean energy have only grown at the federal level, in states, in the financial sector, and across the public. 

From a case study in the report (pg.15):

“TVA likes to claim it is a ‘clean-energy leader and is committed to partnering with others to go further and faster to achieve its carbon-reduction initiatives, but the facts show this is far from the truth. Through 2030, TVA has the second highest planned gas buildout of any parent company in our analysis, has the fifth largest coal fleet, and ranks eighth in planned clean energy buildout.”

“TVA’s Gallatin Fossil Plant Unit 4 was fired up a few days after I was born and that was over 60 years ago,” said Dr. Cris Corley, Chair of the Sierra Club Tennessee Chapter, who lives across the Cumberland River from the Gallatin Fossil Plant. Corley is aware of neighbors who worked at the plant and died prematurely of heart attacks. “I was not really surprised by TVA’s failing grade, I hear the massive coal barges sounding their fog horns while chugging up the river before sunrise and I see the smoke stacks while checking my mailbox before sunset. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Last month, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law. Within it, the IRA includes the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) ability to receive financial incentives for moving its energy system towards renewable energy sources. Last year, President Biden announced his vision for the country to produce 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035. In January of this year, Congress’ House Energy and Commerce Committee sent TVA a letter “questioning cutbacks in the energy efficiency and renewable incentives offered by the Tennessee Valley Authority, claiming many electricity users in TVA's seven-state region still have an undue energy burden even with lower electricity rates than most of the nation.”

“TVA was founded as America’s living laboratory utility. Now, our world is facing global crises and skyrocketing ‘natural’ gas prices, with a federal mandate to stop carbon emissions in the electric sector so we can electrify everything. TVA should be leading the way in this race to renewable energy. Instead, our nation’s largest public utility is limping along, weighed down by fossil fuel commitments for decades to come,” said Amy Kelly, Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign for The Tennessee Valley Authority.

In June of this year, Sierra Club along with partners released an analysis conducted by energy analysis firm Synapse. Synapse completed a system-wide modeling analysis for TVA’s power generation to determine how TVA’s plans to move forward with combined-cycle gas plants as replacements for the retiring Cumberland and Kingston coal plants compare to plans that would instead include solar and storage (a Solar/Storage Replacement scenario) or wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency (a Clean Portfolio Replacement scenario). The results of the Synapse modeling analysis showed that both the Solar/Storage and Clean Portfolio scenarios offer cost savings and dramatic pollution reductions compared with TVA’s business-as-usual approach and that TVA can reliably and economically meet its customers’ needs for capacity and energy without coal generation or new gas units.

In TVA territory outside Tennessee:

Nancy Muse, a Florence citizen who lives across the river from the retired Colbert fossil plant, and also is an At-large member of the Sierra Club Alabama Chapter Executive Committee and Conservation Committee liaison for North Alabama: “TVA’s plan for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) already has $200 million committed for a future plant design, NRC license application, and project while still not committing to build the project. This boondoggle of ratepayer money to appease the nuclear industry, will not mitigate the climate crisis. TVA also plans to invest heavily in expensive and dangerous gasification of retired fossil plants, draining critical funding needed for the urgent, immediate transition to clean, renewable energy, with state-of-the-art battery storage.

Tom Morris, a real estate investor from Bowling Green, KY who has had three solar installations said, “my parents and grandparents were farmers in Warren County, and benefited greatly from rural electrification. It is deeply disappointing that TVA, which has done so much to bring prosperity to our state, is being timid in the transition to clean energy. Bowling Green in December experienced a devastating tornado, an example of the type of extreme weather events which will become more frequent and severe due to climate change. If that did not reason enough to move to clean energy, the massive potential savings for customers should convince them to take aggressive action.”



About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit