TVA Board Appointments Present Opportunity for a Sustainable Energy Future

Guest Blog | November 2, 2009 | Energy Policy
TVA's Board Directors holds quarterly meetings open to the public
TVA's Board Directors holds quarterly meetings open to the public

After several months of waiting, President Obama has nominated Neil McBride and Barbara Heskew, both Tennesseans, to fill two of the four vacant seats on the TVA Board of Directors.  They now face confirmation by the Senate before they can be appointed and take their seats at one of the more powerful tables in the Southeast.  Given TVA’s role to provide electricity for almost nine million people in seven southeastern states, these appointments are an important element of the President’s commitment to securing a clean and sustainable energy future, not just for the Southeast, but for the nation as a whole.

SACE is hopeful that Mr. McBride and Ms. Heskew are ready to take a proactive approach to managing TVA and are committed to making TVA a leader in this nation’s transition to a clean, efficient energy economy. 

As a federally owned corporation and the largest electricity provider in the nation, TVA is in a unique position among the nation’s utilities to take a leadership role.  Unfortunately, TVA has historically been ineffective or generally disinterested in two of the primary elements to securing a clean and sustainable energy future: energy efficiency and renewable energy.  The opportunity to transform TVA into a national leader in clean energy sits with President Obama, not only with the appointment of Mr. McBride and Ms. Heskew, but also with the two additional seats waiting to be filled and the ability to appoint proactive leaders to all nine Board seats by 2012.

Filling these seats with people who have the knowledge and vision to transform TVA into a national leader in clean, renewable energy would mark another important step in this nation’s drive towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change.  The benefits that come with energy efficiency and renewable energy, including green jobs and economic growth, would also help speed the Southeast’s economic recovery and lay the foundation for future economic growth.

TVA’s Board of Directors:
TVA is managed similar to how a private or investor-owned corporation would be managed.  Generally TVA’s Board of Directors is charged with establishing the long-range goals, objectives, and policies of TVA, establishing internal policies for achieving these goals, and ensuring that they are achieved.  Approving annual budgets, negotiating contracts, and establishing electricity rates are all within the authority of the Board, as is creating committees and conducting public hearings on issues that effect  the ratepayers or the economic, environmental, or social well-being of the people of the Tennessee Valley.

Given the ability of Board members to influence the quality of life for almost 9 million residents, the act that authorizes TVA’s creation also creates certain requirements for TVA Board members.  At least seven of the nine Board members must be legal residents of TVA’s service territory.  To be appointed to the Board, an individual must be a U.S. citizen, have management experience in a large organization, make full disclosure of any investment or financial interest in the energy industry, and affirm support for the mission of TVA to be a national leader in innovation, low-cost power, and environmental stewardship.  In addition, the President is instructed to consider the recommendation of a variety of stakeholders, including state officials and business, industrial and environmental organizations.

Current TVA Board Members:

Board member

Home state

Year appointed

Term expires

William Sansom* TN 2006 2009
William Graves TN 2007 2012
Dennis Bottorff TN 2006 2011
Mike Duncan (Chairman) KY 2008 2011
Tom Gilliland GA 2008 2011
Howard Thrailkill AL 2006 2010
Vacant seat ? ? 2013
Vacant seat ? ? 2013
Vacant seat ? ? 2013

*Mr. Sansom’s term has expired but he remains on the Board until a replacement is named.

TVA needs strong leadership:
Unfortunately, TVA has historically been ineffective on energy efficiency and renewable energy development, making it one of the leading contributors to global warming pollution in the nation and placing southeastern states at a competitive disadvantage in growing clean energy markets.  Southeastern states consistently rank at the bottom of the barrel in terms of both energy efficiency and renewable energy.  At the same time, TVA’s coal-fired power plants rank among the oldest and dirtiest in the nation, emitting more than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.  TVA’s nuclear facilities, while producing carbon-free electricity, have saddled TVA with debt and put a heavy strain on the Valley’s rivers and streams.

TVA’s Current Generation Mix:

TVA's Generation Mix
TVA's current generation mix is overly-dependent on coal and nuclear. This increases economic and environmental risk to residents of the Tennessee Valley

In order for TVA to reduce its over reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power, strong leadership is needed.  New Board members must have the knowledge and vision to take TVA in a new direction, a direction that will bring greater prosperity and a cleaner environment to the Tennessee Valley.  Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the engines that can take us there, but TVA must be on board.  Recent studies show that the Southeast is rich in energy efficiency potential and renewable energy resources, but it will take a commitment from the TVA Board to develop these resources and reap the benefits that they can provide.  New appointments to the TVA Board must be willing to make this commitment.

Perhaps our first indication of new Board members’ commitment to efficiency and renewable energy will be their reactions to TVA’s resource plan.  TVA is currently engaging in an integrated resource planning process that will determine how they generate electricity and manage resources for the next twenty years.  The final plan is scheduled to be completed in 2011.  New Board members will be presented with this plan essentially as they walk in the door.

Whether new Board members are willing to ask hard questions from day one, or if they defer to TVA staff and the institutional biases they carry with them will forecast whether we can expect true leadership from new Board members.  President Obama has put his trust in Mr. McBride and Ms. Heskew and we are counting on them to begin a new era of TVA leadership that includes clean, efficient energy and unwavering environmental stewardship.  The nation’s utilities and the people of the Valley are watching.

TVA can be a national leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy, but it will take vision and strength on the part of our leaders.  This is what we should expect from our new TVA Board members.  Appointing strong leaders to TVA’s Board of Directors should be a key element of President Obama’s commitment to developing a sustainable energy future for all Americans.  SACE continues to advocate for knowledgeable Board members who understand the potential for TVA to lead the nation down a path towards a sustainable energy future.

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