What is the TVA?

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  • Written By: M.J. Brower
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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The Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, is a federal program in the United States that supplies power to most of Tennessee and parts of Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia. It is the largest public power utility in the United States. Its power sources include coal plants, combustion turbines, wind turbines, hydroelectric plants, and nuclear power plants, It also manages the Tennessee River system, conducts research, oversees outdoor recreation venues, and fosters economic development in the region.

The TVA was established in 1933 with the passage of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Its purpose was to provide electricity, to improve navigation of the Tennessee River, to manage flood control, and to develop agricultural and industrial resources in the area. It was the first agency created in the United States to address so many different needs of a multi-state region.

At the time the TVA came into being, many homes in the Tennessee Valley region did not have electricity. Rural electrification efforts brought about many improvements in farming and life in general, and also brought more businesses into the area. The TVA worked with farmers to implement farming practices such as fertilization and crop rotation, and provided forestry services such as fire management and reforestation.


During World War II, the TVA provided a record amount of hydroelectric power for aluminum plants. By the time the war ended, the authority provided more power to the country than any other source. In the 1960s, it began building nuclear power plants, but some of these projects were put on hold after the costs of construction began to rise during the energy crisis of the 1970s. From the 1980s to the 2000s, the TVA diversified its energy sources and began to focus more on energy efficiency and meeting environmental standards.

The TVA has seen some controversy throughout its history. It was initially opposed by private power companies and by groups that believed providing power was outside the scope of the federal government. In the early years, thousands of families who had lived in the area for generations were displaced by the building of Norris Dam, one of the first TVA projects. More recent times have seen a number of environmental controversies over matters ranging from air pollution, to the building of nuclear power plants, to concerns about endangered species. In 2008, the largest coal-ash spill in U.S. history occurred at a TVA coal plant in Tennessee, flooding 300 acres of farms and residential areas with sludge.


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