In 1998 the TVA generated more electricity than any other U.S. utility, supplying 8 million residents. The most noteworthy feature of TVA is the system of multipurpose dams and reservoirs that have contributed greatly to the economic life of the area. There are some 50 dams in the hydroelectric system with an installed capacity in excess of 6 million kW. To meet the growing demand for power over and above the hydroelectric capacity of the system, the TVA began in 1940 to construct steam-generating facilities. By the late 1990s, 62% of the TVA's installed capacity was provided by coal-burning steam plants.
Steadily mounting power demands encouraged TVA to add nuclear power plants in the early 1970s. Design and management flaws and a 1975 accident at Browns Ferry resulted in plant closures and construction delays, but by 1996 three facilties (Watts Bar, Sequoyah, and Browns Ferry) were open and operating.
Electric power from all sources is allocated with a view to promoting the widest possible use of electricity throughout the area—with local municipalities, state and federal agencies, and farmer cooperatives receiving priority over private utility companies and industries. The availability of low-cost electricity has attracted large numbers of businesses and industries to the area, and a 630-mi (1,014-km) navigation channel extending from the mouth of the Tennessee River to Knoxville, Tenn., has been responsible for an enormous increase in river traffic, chiefly in coal, construction material, grain, petroleum, chemicals, and forest products.
Other TVA activities, carried out in cooperation with local authorities, include land conservation; environmental research; tree planting; malaria control; the development of fish, wildlife, and mineral resources; social and educational programs; and the establishment of recreational facilities along the banks of its reservoirs, including the Land Between the Lakes, in W Kentucky and W Tennessee.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.