TVA Creating a Path Forward with Connected Communities

How building relationships between communities and their electric utility helps address challenges

Utilities and communities increasingly partner with each other to solve problems and uncover opportunities. Working collaboratively can help utilities understand the needs of the communities they serve and make more effective investments and act as partners in building more equitable, just communities. Communities gain a technical resource, a knowledgeable link to potential funding sources for broadband expansion and workforce training opportunities, and a concierge-like connection to all the services the utility has to offer. When utilities and communities know each other better everyone wins. That is the premise of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Connected Communities initiative.

TVA recognized it can make faster progress toward meeting its goal of an approximately 80% carbon reduction by 2035 with a customer base that’s ready to participate in a modern grid – one that relies on two-way supply and demand flexibility to accommodate a large increase in clean, distributed energy resources (DERs). TVA convened a steering committee of 30 internal and external stakeholders from across the TVA seven-state service region with the objective of aligning around common mission, vision and focus areas for the Connected Communities initiative. Those discussions underscored the importance of addressing energy burden, environmental injustice and the digital divide experienced by lower income and BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) members of communities it serves. 

Based on this input, TVA created three focus areas for the Connected Communities initiative so that everyone has: 

  • Equitable Access to Services: Access to services through broadband, modern technology and the knowledge and empowerment to use it.
  • Economic Empowerment: Economic security and the ability to contribute to a modern, 21st Century economy to the best of their ability.
  • Energy and Environmental Justice: Access to a healthy environment (natural and built) and reliable, affordable and clean energy.

TVA’s work on the initiative so far seeks to identify leading concepts, facilitate collaboration, conduct pilots and prepare to scale learnings to support communities in meeting the Valley’s most critical needs. TVA identified 11 pilot projects to fund that will leverage over $6 million in combined spending – $4.5 million of which will come from TVA – to support the work identified as being necessary to better equip communities to engage with a tech-driven future. These pilots use innovative strategies to support activities across the three focus areas, ranging from digital literacy to workforce development to home energy management.

This article was co-authored by TVA's Bonnie Latta and Guidehouse's Nicole Wobus.

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