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A Hardscrabble Life 1930-1939

Life in the seven-state Tennessee Valley was grim for many people, especially in the rural areas. The region’s per capita income was half that of the country as a whole. Although the cities had electric power, most of the area’s farms did not. Life was a constant struggle for survival, malnutrition was common, and diseases such as malaria and even smallpox ravaged families. Farmlands were eroded due to poor farming practices, and crop yields and farm incomes fell. Terrible floods washed away homes and crops year after year. As the nation plunged into the Great Depression, conditions in the already-depressed Valley grew even worse.  Read A Dream With Solid Stuff in It.

1933 Congress passed the TVA Act, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs designed to help millions of Americans suffering from the Depression. The law directed TVA to improve the standard of living in the Tennessee Valley by providing for flood control and navigation on the Tennessee River and agricultural and industrial development. It gave the agency the right to “acquire real estate for the construction of dams, reservoirs, transmission lines, power houses, and other structures.”

Norris Dam

1933 Per capita annual income in the TVA region was $168, just 45% of the U.S. average. By 2006 regional per capita income had risen to over $30,000, or 82% of the national average. Much of the industrial growth that has fueled this improvement in prosperity is related to the resource development fostered by TVA.

Wheeler Dam

1933 Work began on Norris Dam in Tennessee and Wheeler Dam in Alabama, TVA’s first flood control and hydroelectric projects. These dams were the beginning of a vast system that would eventually make electricity, reduce the floods that had ravaged the region for so long, and create a navigable channel along the entire length of the Tennessee River.



TVA built the planned community of Norris, Tennessee, to house workers building Norris Dam. The fully electric town was designed to be pedestrian-friendly and foster a sense of community.  Read An American Ideal.

At its plant in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, TVA began producing fertilizers that would help rebuild the depleted soil covering much of the Tennessee Valley. Read Valley Bloom.

City of Norris plan

1934 TVA began providing power to the city of Tupelo, Mississippi, under the agency’s first wholesale power contract.

1934 To boost morale and help workers and their families stay informed, TVA set up mobile lending libraries in remote rural communities where its dams were being built. By the late ’30s, TVA was circulating about 13,000 books a month.  Read Books for the People.

1934 TVA distributed the first tree seedlings for reforestation and erosion control from its forest nursery in Clinton, Tennessee.

1935 Because TVA was designed not to offer handouts to people in need but to give them the tools they needed to prosper, the agency began a farm demonstration program to show rural families how electricity would improve their lives. It also signed farmers up to test new ways of improving the soil and increasing yields by terracing, strip cropping, and contour farming. In turn, these farmers helped convince their neighbors that many of their traditional ways of farming weren’t useful anymore. Read Scientists of the Soil.

1935 By the end of the year, TVA had strung over 200 miles of electric line in rural areas of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

1936 Wheeler Dam in Alabama was completed for the primary purpose of navigation on the Tennessee River. It opened up the Tennessee River for navigation from Muscle Shoals to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Read about Wheeler Dam.

1936 TVA submitted a plan for the unified development of the Tennessee Valley’s resources to Congress. The plan was based on the new idea that the resources such as rivers and forests should be developed in a balanced way that considers all the varied effects of any particular action. Read A Complicated Unity.

1936 Although TVA could not control industrial and agricultural discharges into Valley streams, the agency surveyed water quality in the streams and reported to the states on the sources, quantities, and effects of pollution.

1936 In March, TVA averted over $2 million in flood damages (1936 dollars) through the operation of its flood-control system. Read Flood Damage Reduction.

1936 Norris Dam, TVA’s first hydroelectric and flood control project, went into operation on July 26. It was named after Sen. George Norris, known as the Father of TVA, who devoted much of his legislative career to improving the lot of rural Americans. He visited the Tennessee Valley many times during his tenure in office, and in 1926 he introduced the first legislation proposing the construction of federally owned dams on the Tennessee River. The bill went nowhere until the New Deal came along in 1933. Read Clash of the Titans.

David Lilienthal

Arthur Morgan

1938 A bitter dispute erupted in TVA’s early days over how it would distribute the power from its dams to homes and businesses. The agency’s first chairman, Arthur Morgan, and David Lilienthal, a young Indiana lawyer who was one of its first directors, argued fiercely over that question. Morgan wanted private power companies to distribute the power, but Lilienthal argued that local citizen-owned power boards and cooperatives should do the job. Lilienthal won the battle and created the public power system we know today in which TVA sells power wholesale to 155 municipal and cooperative distributors that resell the electricity to customers in their local service areas. Read The Father of Public Power.


Defense of the Nation 1940-1949

By the beginning of the decade, TVA had completed six multipurpose dams and was in the process of building four more. TVA’s power system was the largest in the South and one of the 10 largest in the U.S. About 77 percent of TVA’s generation came from hydropower, 22 percent from fossil fuels, and the rest from purchased power. Although TVA hadn’t built any of its own coal-fired plants at the time, the TVA Act gave the agency the right to buy existing power companies or purchase electricity from outside sources. As war escalated in Europe, it was only a matter of time before the United States would be pulled into the conflict. TVA’s value to the nation was demonstrated dramatically during the war, when its power generation was needed for two aspects of the war effort: aluminum production and uranium enrichment.

“An adequate supply of electric energy comes pretty close to being a matter of national defense.” – TVA Chairman Arthur Morgan

1941 TVA’s expertise in the rapid building of low-cost housing for workers proved valuable to the nation as it struggled to house workers in crowded areas of defense production. Four prefab houses could be built in a day and then be hauled by truck to their locations.

1940 TVA developed health education programs and materials and worked with university professors and students to improve health instruction in secondary schools.

1941 Defense experts realized that vast amounts of aluminum would be needed to build the 500,000-plane air force that President Roosevelt demanded. The largest aluminum plant in the world, Alcoa, was located not far from TVA headquarters in Knoxville. TVA supplied the power that Alcoa needed to ramp up production to meet the wartime demand. A writer for Fortune magazine summed up the importance of Alcoa’s contribution in 1946 when he stated that it was air power that had won the war, based on “aluminum and Alcoa.”  Read TVA Goes to War.

1942 Posters at TVA dam construction sites helped workers understand their contribution to the war effort and motivated them to do their part for the defense of the nation.


1942 The U.S. Government set up a highly secret project to produce the nation’s first atomic bomb along the Clinch River in the wooded hills of east Tennessee. The government built the city of Oak Ridge to house the facilities and workers who would build the bomb. Access to the city was strictly controlled and workers could not tell anyone, even their families, what they were doing in the huge plant. The site was chosen because of its remote location and also because TVA would be able to supply the massive amounts of electricity needed to fuel production of the bomb.  Read TVA Goes to War.

The war created an employment boom. There were 78,000 construction jobs in the Valley in 1942, for example, as opposed to just 32,000 in 1939. TVA’s wartime employment peaked at 39,579, with 28,000 of those workers employed in the design and construction of power plants.

1942 In spite of the accelerated dam construction schedule, hydropower could not supply all the electricity needed for wartime production. TVA met the increased demand by bringing online its first coal-fired project, Watts Bar Fossil Plant.

1942 The entire town of Butler, Tennessee, was relocated for the construction of Watauga Dam and Reservoir. TVA worked with the state of Tennessee to create a new community for the displaced residents of Butler.

1942 Because so many men were away at war, women went into the factories and other businesses to fill positions previously held by men. TVA’s all-male security force dwindled dangerously in number just at the time that the potential for sabotage demanded even greater security. To expand its corps of safety officers, TVA hired women to serve in a unit called Women Officers of Public Safety. These officers filled a critical need for TVA and received a military award for excellence in 1944.  Read Home-Front Defenders.

1943 Because of TVA’s map-making expertise, the U.S. Army asked the agency for help in surveying enemy territory. Its first assignment was to map 30,000 square miles of Nazi-occupied France.  Read The Topography of War.

1943 TVA helped public health agencies fight malaria in the region by employing aerial dusting for mosquito control and managing water levels to control the insects’ breeding.

1943 All of the power produced by Wilson Dam, which TVA had acquired from the U.S. War Department in 1933, went into the production of nitrates and other substances for munitions production as well as fertilizers for agricultural use in hard-hit Allied countries.

1943 1943 Barges loaded with Jeeps move through Guntersville Lock. TVA contributed to the national defense effort by extending the commercially useful navigation channel on the Tennessee River. In 1943, it carried a record 206 million ton-miles of freight, much of it war materials.

TVA completed construction of Douglas Dam in a record 12 months and 17 days, still a world record for a dam of its size. It was the first of 10 dams to be constructed in a crash program designed to provide power for the industrial production of military supplies during the war.

1944 Fontana Dam in western North Carolina, still the largest dam east of the Rockies, was completed in only three years. It provided crucial power supplies for aluminum production in the final phase of the war.  Read Miracle in the Wilderness.

1944 Seventy-five percent of TVA’s generation was dedicated to war production. The Oak Ridge atomic bomb facilities used 200 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, enough to supply over 100,000 modern homes. TVA was the only power company in the area that could supply such vast amounts of electricity.

1945 With the filling of Kentucky Reservoir, the entire 650-mile navigation channel from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Paducah, Kentucky, was completed, linking the river to the 20-state Inland Waterway System.  Read Navigation on the Tennessee River.

1945 TVA participated in a demonstration project in Virginia to reclaim lands damaged by surface mining by planting trees.

1945 The TVA power service area covered 75,000 square miles in six states, serving about 500,000 retail customers.

1948 The availability of low-cost TVA electricity stimulated economic development after the war. Between July 1947 and June 1948, consumers in the TVA region spent more than $50 million on refrigerators, stoves, water heaters, and washing machines.

1949 TVA’s one-millionth customer was connected to the power system. To meet the increasing power demand from homes and businesses, TVA needed to add more generating plants. There was a limit to how many dams it could build, but coal was fairly cheap and widely available, so TVA turned to coal-fired plants to meet the need. However, some members of Congress opposed spending federal money to build power plants that didn’t offer the broad benefits provided by the TVA dams. The stage was set for a political battle that would not be solved for another decade.


Postwar Boom, Political Battles 1950-1959

Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, construction and operation jobs at TVA power plants would offer a road to prosperity for thousands of people in the Valley. Diversity in hiring was a key TVA principle, and minorities in particular would find an open door to job opportunities that had never been available before. Low power rates and the wide availability of new appliances for farms and homes caused consumer demand for electricity to rise. By the early ’50s, demand exceeded the capacity of TVA’s hydropower system and the agency began building the coalfired fossil plants that would become the backbone of the system. Those plants weren’t built without political opposition, however, and legal wrangling occupied much of the decade. With greater leisure time than ever before, residents and visitors flocked to the TVA reservoirs and shorelines to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities.

1950 TVA’s 15,000 miles of transmission line covered all areas in its seven-state service territory for the first time.

1950 South Holston Dam in northeast Tennessee was completed. TVA continued to build hydroelectric dams after the end of World War II to meet the increasing demand for power and to provide additional flood storage capacity.  Read about South Holston.

1951 After political battles lasting several years, TVA was able to complete Johnsonville Fossil Plant in middle Tennessee. TVA needed Congressional authorization and appropriations to begin construction on all its plants, and approval for Johnsonville had been a political football. A Republican-controlled Congress vetoed the proposal in 1948, but when the Democrats returned to power a year later, they approved it. TVA recognized that it would never be able to plan effectively for development if it was subject to varying political winds, so it began looking at other ways to finance its power operations.  Read The Great Compromise.

1951 TVA’s new large-scale vacuum crystallization plant, the only one of its kind in the nation, went into production. TVA remained an international leader in the development and production of fertilizers. Germination tests were conducted at the agency’s greenhouse at Wilson Dam, Alabama.

1952 During the Korean War, more than half of the work in TVA’s chemical research labs was related to classified projects for U.S. defense agencies.

1952 Construction employment was at a high for the decade in the Tennessee Valley region, with 84,000 jobs in construction on record. Many thousands of workers were employed building TVA’s remaining dams and coal-fired plants.

1952 Widows Creek Fossil Plant in northern Alabama went into commercial operation. TVA’s coal-fired plants were originally called “steam plants” because they burned coal to produce steam that turned the generating turbines. The term “fossil plant” came into later use when gas combustion turbine facilities were added at some plant sites.


1953 Shawnee Fossil Plant in Kentucky began operation.

The reservoirs created by TVA dams offered endless recreation opportunities for residents and helped encourage tourism to the Tennessee Valley. TVA transferred over 200 small waterfront areas on nine reservoirs to the State of Tennessee, ensuring easy public access.


Kingston Fossil Plant in east Tennessee, the largest coal-burning power plant in the world at the time, began producing power.


Fossil power represented 74 percent of TVA generation and hydropower just 24 percent. That was a dramatic change from 1950, when the dams produced 94 percent of TVA’s power output.

Colbert Fossil Plant

John Sevier Fossil Plant

1955 The first units at Colbert Fossil Plant in Alabama and John Sevier Fossil Plant in east Tennessee went online.


TVA provided power to Atomic Energy Commission plants, which used 30.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, representing over 50 percent of the agency’s power sales. In 1951 the AEC had accounted for only about 14 percent of TVA’s sales.


The first unit of Gallatin Fossil Plant in middle Tennessee began commercial operation.

1959 The first unit at Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis began operation.


1956 TVA continued its reforestation program, having supplied most of the 328 million seedlings that were planted in the Tennessee Valley since 1934. The agency enlarged its seedling nursery to produce 30 million new seedlings a year.


In February, TVA averted nearly $112 million in flood damages (1957 dollars) when it reduced the flood stage level by 21.8 feet. Read Flood Damage Reduction.

After years of debate, Congress passed legislation authorizing TVA to finance its power system through the sale of bonds. The legislation defined an area known as “the Fence,” which sets limits to the territory where TVA can sell power. TVA sold its first power bond the following year.


The Power Landscape Changes 1960-1969

Thanks to its massive buildup of coal-fired power sources during the 1950s, TVA was generating about 72 percent of its power from fossil-fuel sources and 28 percent from hydroelectric dams. The number of electricity customers in the Tennessee Valley passed two million, and consumers were using nearly 200 times as much electricity as they had in 1933. Bigger changes were ahead in the power landscape, however. As coal-fired plants shouldered most of the generation load, concerns were growing about their environmental impact, especially as it related to mining coal. Studies suggested that nuclear power might be more economical and less environmentally risky. Even as TVA was finishing construction on its large fossil plants, it began making plans to enter the nuclear age. Throughout the Tennessee Valley, industrial and agricultural growth continued to fuel prosperity for the growing middle class.

1961 As part of its increased efforts in recreation and wildlife management. TVA proposed to President Kennedy the establishment of the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) National Recreation Area, a 170,000-acre tract between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in western Kentucky and Tennessee. Kennedy approved the project and the first campground opened in 1964.

1961 A Saturn rocket booster traveled by barge from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to Cape Canaveral in Florida. The navigation channel formed by the TVA reservoirs helps keep shipping costs low and permits the movement of oversized items such as rocket components and power plant generators as well as bulk items like coal and grain. Read about navigation on the river.

1962 Improved farming techniques and fertilizers brought widespread improvement to agriculture in the Tennessee Valley. From 1934 to 1960 the average yield per acre increased more than 78% and the value of crops sold increased 276%.

1962 The availability of affordable power, a navigable river channel, and improved water resources have helped fuel extensive industrial growth in the Tennessee Valley. Between 1929 and 2007 manufacturing employment grew from 221,600 to 724,213, an increase of 227% as compared to a national increase of 32%.

1963 President John F. Kennedy spoke at TVA’s 30th anniversary celebration in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “The work of TVA will never be done,” Kennedy said. “There will always be new frontiers to conquer.”

1963 Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky began operation. The plant had the largest generating unit in operation anywhere in the world when it went online on May 19, 1963.

1963 TVA generated 46 times as much power in 1963, its 30th anniversary year, as it did in 1933. The average annual electricity usage was over 10,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per customer, as opposed to 600 kWh in 1933.

1965 TVA announced that all future contracts to buy surface-mined coal for its power plants would include requirements for land reclamation.

1965 TVA built the world’s first 500-kilovolt transmission system, needed to serve the everincreasing demand for electricity. Voltages used for electric power transmission had gradually increased during the 20th century. Although the first transmission line in North America operated at a mere 4,000 volts, by the 1950s, 300-400 kV lines were standard. The higher the voltage on transmission lines, the lower the current required, which means less power is lost during transmission.

1966 Introducing a new era in TVA power production, the TVA Board approved construction of the agency’s first nuclear power plant at Browns Ferry, Alabama. Construction began in September of that year.

1965 Thanks in part to TVA’s lower electric rates, new industrial plants sprouted up all over the Tennessee Valley. From July 1964 to June 1965, 194 new plants were built in the region and 306 existing ones expanded. This economic development ferment represented $380 million in investment and brought 32,000 new jobs.

1967 Bull Run Fossil Plant near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, began commercial operation. Its 900,000-kilowatt generator was the largest in the world in the volume of steam produced.

1969 Construction began at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant, TVA’s second nuclear facility, north of Chattanooga. TVA built cooling towers at all of its nuclear plants to protect aquatic life by avoiding the higher water temperatures that would result from plant discharges of cooling water directly into the river.


Rising Fuel Prices, Falling Demand 1970-1979

To meet the growing demand for energy, TVA planned six nuclear plants in addition to Browns Ferry. However, inflation and an international oil embargo by petroleum-exporting nations in the Middle East brought turbulence to world economies. TVA faced rising fuel costs as it saw the price of coal increase from $5 a ton to $33 a ton over 10 years. That led to higher costs for power consumers in the Valley and throughout the nation. Consumers began to adopt energy conservation measures, which helped propel a drop in energy demand and in TVA’s revenues. To meet the shifting financial landscape, TVA began to cut its operating costs and improve productivity. The agency built its last dam amid fierce opposition and saw environmental awareness continue to grow as cleaner air became a national priority in protecting human and environmental health.

1970 About 82 percent of TVA’s power production was now from fossil fuel sources, and just 18 percent from hydropower.

1970 Commercial freight traffic on the Tennessee River waterway totaled over 24.5 million tons, including over 806,000 tons of iron and steel. It was the eighth year of record-level freight usage of the navigation channel.

1970 The discovery of mercury pollution from a discarded metal industrial drum on Boone Reservoir led TVA to analyze all of its reservoirs for contamination and to work with state and federal agencies to control the pollution.  Read Water Quality.

1970 TVA began community development projects to help improve conditions in the more rural parts of its service area. The agency worked with state and local educators, for example, to improve the quality of education by arranging for communities to share facilities and teachers.

1972 To meet the need for electricity generation that can be started quickly during periods of peak demand, TVA installed its first combustion turbine generators at Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis and Colbert in Alabama. Combustion turbines run on natural gas or fuel oil and are designed to start quickly during peak demand periods. They operate like a jet engine, drawing in air, compressing it, mixing it with fuel, and igniting it. The hot combustion gases expand through turbine blades connected to a generator to produce electricity.

1972 Construction began on TVA’s third nuclear plant, Watts Bar, in east Tennessee. Watts Bar was the only TVA site to have all three forms of power production: hydroelectric, fossil, and nuclear.


TVA’s Environmental Education Program helped schoolchildren learn about soil erosion, water and air quality, and forestry.


TVA used helicopters to measure the composition of plumes from fossil plant stacks as part of its program to limit sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. Very high plant stacks and various operational controls were used to reduce SO2 concentrations at ground level. Read Air Quality.

1973 A flood crest of 37 feet was recorded at Chattanooga in March, the largest regulated flood since the completion of the TVA reservoir system. TVA’s dam operations reduced the flood crest by over 15 feet and averted $465 million in flood damages. Read Flood Damage Reduction.

1973 TVA started promoting energy conservation practices in response to the national energy shortage, becoming a leader in the field. The agency offered free surveys of home energy use, programs for home insulation and weatherization, and loan programs to finance efficiency improvements. It also began researching alternative-fuel vehicles and operated a large bus and van transportation system for employees.

1973 Cumberland Fossil Plant near Nashville, the last TVA coal-fired plant to become operational, began producing power.


TVA began hiring archaeologists to help document and preserve the historic sites and structures it owned or affected in the course of its operations. Staff members ensure TVA is compliant with all laws and regulations covering these sites. Read TVA Cultural Resources.

1974 TVA counted a record-breaking 61.9 million visits to its reservoirs. The reservoirs and their shoreline campgrounds and picnic facilities continued to play a central role in providing recreation opportunities in the Valley.


Browns Ferry Unit 1, TVA’s very first nuclear power unit, became operational. It was the largest nuclear plant in operation in the world and began saving consumers $200 million a year compared to the equivalent generation from coal.

1975 In a joint project with the Environmental Protection Agency, TVA began to study the effects of heated water from power plant discharges on fish and other aquatic life in the reservoirs. TVA continues to monitor water temperatures to ensure they remain within legal limits.

1976 TVA and four of the states it serves began a five-year demonstration project to reclaim 87,000 acres of abandoned coal surface mines in 38 counties in the Tennessee River watershed and eastern Kentucky.

1977 Following the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, TVA entered into air quality agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency. It made modifications to its fossilfuel program that included using lower-sulfur coal, restricting some maximum generating levels, and adding scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide from plant emissions. The first scrubber was installed at Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Alabama.

1979 Tellico Dam, one of the most controversial of TVA’s hydro projects, was completed. It was not designed for power production but for flood control and recreation. Its construction involved the loss of many farms, archaeological sites, and Native American sacred sites. Protests against the dam gained new momentum when an endangered fish, the snail darter, was discovered in the river and thought to exist nowhere else. The controversy went all the way to the Supreme Court but eventually Congress ruled that the dam could proceed.

1979 Although it sounded like a crazy idea to many people, TVA built a reservoir on top of a mountain and a hydropower plant inside the mountain. Raccoon Mountain pumped-storage facility west of Chattanooga is a highly unusual power source and an engineering marvel. It provides a way of storing potential energy for later use, which is not possible with most conventional power plants. Water is pumped from the river at the base of the mountain to the reservoir on top. When power is needed, the water is released from the reservoir and flows down through tunnels to the four huge turbines inside the mountain. TVA tunneled through 1,600 feet of rock to create the turbine room within the mountain. Read The Mountaintop Marvel.


Promoting Energy Efficiency 1980-1989

Like the rest of the country, TVA struggled through the worst economic recession since the 1930s. Unemployment rates nationwide rose to 11 percent, and reached 20 percent in some rural areas. The continuing rise in power demand that TVA had expected when it started its ambitious nuclear program did not occur. Like other power producers in the U.S., TVA canceled several nuclear plants that were on the drawing board. Energy conservation gained importance as people and businesses looked for ways to save money and protect the environment. TVA provided consumers with low-interest loans for installing better-designed, more efficient heat pumps. Thanks in part to conservation efforts, consumers’ electricity use dropped about 20 percent over a 10-year period. After an accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island power plant in 1979, TVA worked to improve nuclear safety through measures such as better plant designs, improved training, and lower employee exposure limits.



Fossil generation continued to provide the bulk of power for TVA, reaching 67 percent of total generation. Hydropower contributed 18 percent to the mix, and nuclear power 15 percent. By 1983, TVA’s five nuclear units would be contributing 25 percent of total power generation.

Solar energy entered the TVA lexicon when TVA began designing solar homes as part of its energy conservation efforts. Its passive solar designs won awards in a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

1980 TVA installed its first electrostatic precipitator at Cumberland Fossil Plant. Over time the agency added precipitators at all of its fossil plants to reduce the levels of extremely small particles that are produced when fuel is burned. The precipitators work in a manner similar to home air cleaners.

1982 An affordable home featuring TVA-designed energy-saving techniques was offered in the annual Parade of Homes in Knoxville.


TVA was a lead participant in the 1982 World’s Fair held in its headquarters city of Knoxville. The agency set up two pavilions on barges on the Tennessee River that contained an exhibit on TVA history called The Valley Adventure. More than a million people visited the popular exhibit during the six months of the Fair.

1984 TVA worked with other agencies to restore severely eroded land in the Copper Basin in southeast Tennessee and north Georgia. Rebuilding the soil and planting trees and shrubs helped bring back an area devastated by copper mining going back to the 1850s. Read Copper Basin Reclamation.



1983 The U.S. Post Office issues a stamp commemorating TVA’s 50th anniversary.

1985 Japanese automaker Nissan opened a small-truck manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, as TVA continued to play an important role in bringing new businesses and industries to the Tennessee Valley.

1984 Besides supporting consumers’ energy conservation efforts, TVA also turned its attention to its own facilities. Its Chattanooga Office Complex was completed and recognized as a model of energy-efficient building design. It included one of the largest passive solar energy projects in the country. In 2000 the building received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star label, placing it among the top buildings nationwide for energy performance.

1986 TVA completed its one-millionth free home energy survey, offering homeowners information on weatherization and other energy conservation measures.

1988 The last major construction project was completed on TVA’s transmission system.


TVA contracted with MCI Telecommunications Corporation to design, engineer, and construct a fiber-optic network that would link various sites in the Tennessee Valley.


TVA spilled water through Norris Dam for only the eighth time since the dam was finished in 1936. The spill created space for floodwaters during unusually heavy rains in June, when the average rainfall across the Valley was 7.74 inches, more than 2.5 times normal for the period.


Planning for the Long Term 1990-1999

TVA boosted its competitiveness by cutting its operating costs by nearly $800 million and reducing its workforce by more than half. As the agency increased the generating capacity of its plants and restarted three nuclear units, it also planned for long-term energy generation by issuing a comprehensive integrated resource plan to guide system operations. It continued to promote economic growth in the area through its new regional development offices. Environmental concerns came to the fore as TVA developed a new clean air strategy to meet stricter federal regulations. Wastewater treatment, wildlife protection, and water quality were the focus of other environmental initiatives.


1990 Sequoyah Nuclear Plant ranked second in the nation and eighth in the world in overall power generation.

In March, TVA averted $770 million in flood damages (1994 dollars) by reducing the flood stage level by 19.8 feet.


TVA opened nine economic development centers across the Tennessee Valley to work with state and regional partners in encouraging job creation and investment in its service area. Read TVA Economic Development.

1992 TVA initiated a modernization program for its hydroelectric plants with the goal of increasing the overall capacity of the power system. The hydro projects are aimed at increasing plant efficiency by reducing energy consumption, maintaining the availability of the plants, lowering maintenance costs, and increasing the megawatt capacity. They also provide an environmental gain by enabling TVA to burn less fossil fuel, reducing carbon emissions.

1995 1994 TVA refocused its fertilizer research facility in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, toward programs that emphasize environmental research and development.

A 78-day, $13.9 million outage was conducted on Unit 2 at Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky. Periodic scheduled outages at TVA fossil plants provide the opportunity to conduct maintenance activities that improve efficiency, help the environment, and enable generating units to operate like new.

1996 Proving that water power isn’t just for creating electricity, TVA provided special water releases on the Ocoee River in southeast Tennessee for the Summer Olympic Games whitewater events.

1996 Water quality was an important focus of TVA’s environmental efforts. To protect aquatic life, TVA used various measures to add oxygen to the water, including building weirs below dams. It also sought to control pollution from runoff and other sources.

1996 1996 Unit 1 of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Tennessee reached full power production for the first time.

TVA collaborated with wildlife groups to release 29 Manitoban elk into the Land Between the Lakes as part of an effort to reestablish the species where it had not lived for 150 years.

1997 TVA’s production costs were third-lowest among the 25 largest utility companies in the U.S. Nevertheless, it continued to strive toward greater efficiency and lower costs by adjusting power costs and creating more flexible contracts with its distributor customers.


TVA presented its new clean-air strategy to reduce the emissions that contribute to ozone and smog. The strategy involved adding equipment to its fossil plants that would reduce emissions and help Valley states and cities meet newer, stricter air-quality requirements.


A TVA environmental response team helped contain the damage from an industrial oil spill when a diesel-fuel pipeline ruptured, pouring thousands of gallons of fuel into the river.

1999 TVA worked with the U.S. Department of Defense to find a way to safely eliminate explosive residues in munitions, storage tanks, and other facilities at military bases around the country.


Reliability and Sustainability 2000-Present

The need for sustainable power sources was becoming clearer in the face of climate change and the push for cleaner air. TVA set up a green power purchasing program and continued working with power distributors to encourage energy efficiency. Through the Energy RightŽ program, it provided resources such as on-site energy evaluations to help homeowners and businesses reduce energy use. TVA developed renewable energy generation using solar, wind and biomass resources and began large-scale purchases of wind power from commercial sources. Air quality remained a focus of the agency’s environmental efforts as it installed controls on its fossil plants to reduce emissions of major contaminants such as sulfur dioxide. TVA’s economic development staff drew nationwide recognition for its success in attracting major companies and large capital investments to the service area.

2000 Working with power distributors and environmental advocates, TVA became the first utility in the Southeast to offer consumers a chance to buy renewable energy when it rolled out its Green Power SwitchÂŽ program. Customers could support renewable energy by buying blocks of power generated by solar installations located throughout the Valley and other sources to be added in the coming years.

2000 TVA’s transmission system delivered power with 99.999 percent reliability, an achievement that would continue throughout the entire decade and beyond.

2002 Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis became a Green Power Switch resource. A methane gas by-product from the city’s wastewater treatment plant is co-fired with coal at Allen. This keeps methane from being emitted directly into the atmosphere and helps reduce the fossil plant’s emissions.

2001 Eleven solar sites were generating green power, and TVA added new renewable sources to its Green Power Switch program. It became the first power company in the Southeast to set up a commercial-scale wind power installation. Three giant wind turbines on Buffalo Mountain in east Tennessee began generating electricity to add to the green power resources.


TVA met a record peak demand for electricity of more than 30,000 megawatts when the average Tennessee Valley temperature was 6 degrees F.

2003 TVA introduced its Generation Partners program, now called Green Power Providers. It supports homeowners and businesses that install small renewable generating systems including wind, biomass, low-impact hydro, and solar.

2004 TVA adopted a new, more flexible reservoir operations policy. Instead of aiming for specific summer water levels in each reservoir, the policy regulates the flow of water through the whole system, helping to improve recreation opportunities, water quality and navigation. Read Managing River System Flows.

2004 Sixteen solar sites at schools and other locations as well as a number of small home systems were generating electricity from the sun for Green Power Switch.

2004 Twelve TVA fossil plant units set records for continuous operation without an unscheduled shutdown for maintenance.

2005 TVA completed a major expansion of its Green Power Switch program with the addition of 15 larger turbines to its wind installation on Buffalo Mountain. The wind farm’s capacity increased to 29 megawatts, or enough power for about 3,780 homes.


In April Widows Creek Unit 3 set a national record for a continuous run by a coal-fired unit, operating for 819 days before it was shut down for scheduled maintenance.

2005 TVA met its commitment to reduce ozone-season nitrogen oxide emissions by 70 to 75 percent below 1995 levels.


In August, thanks to a record-breaking drought and high temperatures, TVA met 13 of its highest-ever peak demands for power.

2007 President George W. Bush visited Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama to honor TVA’s completion of work to restart Unit 1, the first new nuclear power to be brought online in the 21st century.

2007 Shawnee Fossil Plant Unit 6 set a national record for continuous operation after running nonstop for 1,093 days.

2007 The TVA board voted to resume construction of Unit 2 at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. TVA had suspended construction on Unit 2 in 1988 because the expected growth in the demand for power did not materialize at that time.

2008 When a storage pond dike gave way at Kingston Fossil Plant in east Tennessee, millions of cubic yards of coal ash were released, covering about 300 acres and spilling into the Emory River. No injuries occurred although a number of homes were destroyed. Restoration efforts to remove the ash were begun, and TVA made plans to eliminate the wet storage of ash at its fossil plants.

2010 During one of the hottest summers on record, more than 300 Valley businesses reduced their electricity use to help conserve energy. A TVA contractor coordinated the energy management program, which delivered 183 megawatts and 170 megawatts of peak power savings on two of the hottest days in July and August.


TVA’s emission control program had reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 91 percent from 1977 levels and lowered nitrogen oxide emissions by about 88 percent since 1995.


For the seventh year in a row, Site Selection magazine named TVA one of the nation’s top 10 utilities in economic development for helping to attract or retain more than 43,000 jobs and $4.9 billion in capital investment in the region. Read about the award.


TVA began buying electricity produced by commercial wind installations in Iowa and Illinois. Power from seven additional Midwestern wind sites was added in 2012, and total wind energy purchases reached 1,515 megawatts. TVA continued to harvest wind energy at its Buffalo Mountain site in east Tennessee.

2012 TVA received top honors from the International Economic Development Council for its Megasites certification program. The program has generated about $5.5 billion in economic impact and more than 32,000 jobs annually. Companies that have located to Megasites include Volkswagen and Toyota. Read about Megasites.


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