Lesson 2: Energy Access and Costs


  • You will explore the way Memphis sources its power, and will consider efficiency and power generation.
  • You will examine the reasons Memphis is considering leaving the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power relationship and form an initial opinion on whether it is the right thing to do.

Time to Complete

1 to 2 hours


Watch Built for the People: The Story of TVA to learn about the history and function of the TVA.

Click here to summarize the video based on information you feel is relevant and important to the power industry in Memphis.

Let’s Get Started

Although the TVA was originally a government program, it no longer receives government funding and relies on sales of electricity for all of its development work.

Since TVA no longer receives government funds, what do you think that might do to the prices for the power TVA sells to their local electric company? Use the Notes tool to record your answer.

The article that you will read next highlights the “energy burden” that is felt by low-income, African American, and Latino households.

Before you read, remember that the word burden means a heavy load that needs to be carried. A burden can be physical, mental, or emotional.

The other word to look at before reading the article is disproportionate. Let’s break that word down to help understand what it means.

  • dis means “not”
  • proportion means “a part, share, or number considered in comparative relation to a whole”
  • ate means “having, possessing”

Therefore, disproportionate means “not having a part considered in comparative relation to the whole.” In other words, something that is disproportionate is either too large or too small in comparison with something else.

Given what you know about the meaning of the words burden and disproportionate, what information do you think the article will most likely be sharing? Record your answer in the Notes tool.

Read and highlight or take Notes on Report: “Energy Burden” on Low-Income, African American, & Latino Households up to Three Times as High as Other Homes, More Energy Efficiency Needed

The article makes reference to the link between a person’s health and the energy burden of their household. How is a person’s health related to energy burden? Use the Notes tool.

Thinking about your own city, what do you think are the ways in which energy costs affect the residents of Memphis?

Let’s Get to Work

If possible, join with others using a collaboration tool such as Google Docs, a class message board, a video conferencing tool, etc., and discuss the following quotes from the article as they relate to Memphis. If working independently, speak to someone at home about the significance of the quotes in relation to Memphis. You can also use the chart below. Upload when you have finished.


Jacqueline Patterson, director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program, NAACP, said:

“For the communities we serve who are disproportionately plagued by pollution from energy production, for families who have to make choices between proper nutrition and keeping the lights on, and for unemployed persons for whom retrofitting and weatherization may provide a pathway out of poverty this report illuminates the challenges and provides guidance on solutions that will result in healthier and more economically vibrant communities.”

Khalil Shahyd, representative, Energy Efficiency for All coalition (which includes the Natural Resources Defense Council where he is a project manager of the Urban Solutions Program), said:

“Increasing investments in energy efficiency can help improve energy affordability for all of America’s households, renters and owners alike, and this is especially critical for low-income renters whose energy burdens are more than three times higher. Cutting energy waste by improving energy efficiency leads to more comfortable homes; healthier, more prosperous communities; and is the quickest and most cost-effective way to reduce the dangerous carbon pollution fueling climate change.  Energy efficiency is a practical solution for climate change, one that all people can participate in directly and experience direct benefits from.”

Identify the key problems brought up by the people being quoted, and identify one way in which the mayor, or the TVA, could help mitigate each problem. Record your ideas in the chart. If working in a collaboration group, work together to complete the chart.

Let’s Wrap Up

Considering what you have read and discussed, what is your first thought on how to decide whether Memphis should leave TVA and find or create a new electricity provider? Answer in the Notes tool.

Be sure to upload all of your completed PDFs before moving on to your next lesson.