Photo illustration. "Tsunami" by Petra Bensted, via Flickr. Contrast added to original.

David Freeman, a celebrated eco-pioneer and former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, will return to his roots on Friday (May 20, 2016) to argue that the nation’s most electrified region needs an even higher dose of that magic juice that the New Dealers promised would make this impoverished seven-state region look like the rest of America and become a model of economic development for the world.

Freeman’s vision this time is far broader and more likely to have enduring impact and global implications than TVA has had in its 83-year history.  This 90-year old visionary argues that environmentalists, utilities, and politicians are sailing in the same sinking ship in seeking solutions to climate change.  The solution, he asserts in a new book, is a total commitment to wind and solar as the sole sources of electric power generation.

In “All-Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future,” Freeman and co-author, journalist Leah Parks, assert that wind, solar, and new developments in electric storage and distribution will permit the U.S. and the world to move aggressively to make renewable energy supply all energy needs by the year 2050.  Freeman will be reading from the book and engaging with the audience at the event in Knoxville on Friday.

This is an engaging and fact-filled book that takes on the critics of renewable energy and demonstrates that the piecemeal energy solutions being pursued by the Obama administration and most of the rest of the world’s governments are guaranteed to ensure that the goals of carbon reduction will not be met in time to prevent the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.  The book points out that the turn away from coal to natural gas by the nation’s utilities — a move favored by both politicians and environmental organizations — will actually accelerate global warming by increasing the release of the even more toxic methane gases.

Freeman and Parks do a good job of outlining for the ordinary concerned citizen the counters to the arguments, for example, that wind, solar, and other renewables are too costly.  They correctly point out that the true costs of coal — stripmined mountains, crippled miners, and terminally polluted soil and water — are not factored into the cost of burning coal.  And they do the same for the hidden costs of nuclear and gas-fired generation.

They go a step further, however, by demonstrating that solar and wind are already competing well with carbon- and nuclear-based greenfield generation.  Greater policy commitment to renewables, and accelerated research into hydrogen technology and electric storage, will ensure that good old fashioned market competition will lead to the blinders falling from the eyes of utility executives, Freeman and Parks argue.

Freeman, a Carter appointee to TVA who went on to lead public utilities in Texas, California, and New York, is not politically naive.  The book points out that it will take a citizen’s crusade on a global basis to awaken the world’s leaders to the option of an all renewable electric future.

It’s fitting, therefore, that Freeman is holding this session in TVA’s hometown of Knoxville.  David Lilienthal, one of the first TVA directors, argued that the agency represented “democracy on the march.”  It has done some of that, but more often it has been a long way short of the “yardstick” that President Roosevelt wanted it to be in measuring greatness and leadership vision for the utility industry.  It’s time the TVA also got back to its roots.

The nine members of the TVA board and the executive director should be in the front seats of the audience in Knoxville on Friday evening.  Freeman, a Chattanooga native who spent much of his younger years as a TVA employee before coming back to the region as chairman, is as fearless, articulate, and passionate as any cause could hope for.  Welcome back, Dave.

The book, 236 pages, $12.95, is available in paperback and electronic editions.

Jim Branscome covered the TVA for the Washington Post and the Whitesburg, Kentucky, Mountain Eagle during David Freeman’s tenure as TVA board chairman.

More about David Freeman’s event in Knoxville

The event is titled “What TVA Should be Doing to Help Save the Planet . . . But Isn’t.” 7 p.m., Friday, May 20, at the Church of the Savior, U.C.C., 934 Weisgarber, Knoxville, Tennessee. The event is sponsored by Interfaith Worker Justice of East TN, Tennessee Interfaith Power & Light, SOCM, Church of the Savior, U.C.C., and Center for Rural Strategies (which publishes the Daily Yonder).

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