TVA Board gives away power plant decision-making authority to CEO Jeff Lyash, while also giving him a raise

Kate Tracy and Guest Blog | November 11, 2021 | Climate Change, Energy Policy, Tennessee, Utilities

Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, also contributed to this blog post.

At the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Board meeting on November 10, Board members voted to delegate decision-making authority around the Kingston and Cumberland coal plants to CEO Jeff Lyash, an outspoken proponent of fossil gas as a “bridge fuel.” This comes at a time when TVA is currently weighing whether to replace the two coal fired plants with fossil gas plants and pipelines, or solar + storage. With this latest move, that decision will now fall squarely on the shoulders of Jeff Lyash. 

The vote was all the more stunning given the backdrop outside the TVA headquarters in downtown Knoxville as dozens of concerned community members from Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement (TVEDM), of which the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) is a part, gathered outside for a demonstration entitled “Locked Out, Locked Arms” and delivered nearly 4,000 public comments calling on the Board to:

  • Reimplement public listening sessions,
  • Transition to 100% clean energy, and
  • Strengthen worker protections.

Even while many of the TVA Board members joined the business meeting virtually, the public that TVA is meant to serve was locked out of the meeting since no options for giving verbal comments either in person or virtually were available to the public. 

Organizers from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Sunrise Movement – Nashville + Knoxville, and Appalachian Voices lock arms outside of TVA’s building to symbolize the public’s voice being locked out from TVA’s Board meetings

The delegation to Lyash only requires him to report back to the Board periodically on the status of the transition plans, but he will not have to receive approval to make final decisions on how the coal plants will be replaced through any sort of formal vote by the Board. The delegation of responsibility is particularly concerning given Lyash’s and the TVA staff’s apparent preference for fossil gas over renewable energy, as demonstrated by a recent ill-planned proposal for a 1,500 megawatt expansion of gas power plant capacity and by recent media appearanceseven as the gravity of the climate crisis demands phasing out fossil fuels as rapidly as possible in order to to avoid the worst impacts–some of which Tennessee is already facing

It was obvious from many of the public comments submitted to the Board that Tennessee Valley residents are also very concerned about TVA’s recent actions:  

“TVA needs to hear public input – please institute virtual public listening sessions immediately. Furthermore, TVA needs to prioritize public health by transitioning fossil fuel plants to clean energy, protecting its workers and communities from toxic coal ash, and prioritizing energy efficiency. We deserve clean, affordable energy and TVA has the power to provide it.” – Ricki D, Knoxville, TN 

“TVA, you need to be accountable to the people in your community! Hold a public forum, so we can tell you what we need: energy that doesn’t bankrupt working families. Safety for the workers who are keeping the lights on at your plants. Renewable energy. Hold public forums!” – Anonymous, Knoxville, TN 

“1. CHANGE NOW for climate resiliency. 2. Listen to the public. 3. TRANSPARENCY in what you are doing. I know this sounds painful, but relationships that SURVIVE have to do the hard work.” – Joy J., Huntsville, AL 

Concerned citizens from across the Valley and members from Sierra Club – Tennessee, SACE, Appalachian Voices, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sunrise Movement Knoxville + Nashville demonstrated at TVA’s headquarters on the day of their Board meeting to public listening sessions be reinstated.

“​​I am writing to emphasize priorities I have for TVA, as follows: 1) TVA should transition closing fossil plants to clean energy, NOT fossil fuel gas. 2)TVA should protect workers and communities from toxic coal ash by storing it high and dry and providing proper PPE for workers. 3) TVA should prioritize energy efficiency to reduce electric bills and carbon emissions. 4) You MUST HOLD VIRTUAL PUBLIC LISTENING SESSIONS for the public ahead of TVA board meetings.” – Shirley B., Maryville, TN

“It is past time to stop burning fossil fuel for the generation of electricity. All fossil fuel including natural gas. TVA should reestablish its heritage and be a friend of the people. People need clean power and a reversal of climate change. TVA is in a position to set an example and lead. Please do so.” – Kenneth J., Nashville, TN 

“TVA, coal was the fuel that brought us from the industrial revolution into the 20th century. It is time for us to leave it in the ground where it belongs. The 21st century calls for more responsible and advanced technologies for energy production.” – Cesar P. Kennesaw, GA 

View the full slate of public comments submitted on the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement website. TVA does not make comments submitted to it from the public available for public viewing.

Additionally, two of TVA’s current Board members’ terms expired in May 2021, and two openings are still vacant from the Trump administration. President Biden has nominated four new Board members, but they have not had a confirmation hearing in the Senate. It appears that this move to delegate the Board’s power to Lyash was an overt attempt to undermine the power of any incoming Board members who might prefer to pass on new fossil gas in favor of clean, low-cost energy options. We urge Congress move swiftly to confirm President Biden’s Board nominees who could shepherd in a new era at TVA.

To add insult to fossil-fueled injury, the Board also voted to give Lyash a raise. He will now make nearly $10 million per year and is the highest paid federal employee in the country. 

We will continue to monitor TVA’s actions while calling on them to be the clean energy leader that the nation’s largest public power provider can be. Stay tuned for future updates and sign up to be alerted of campaign efforts to put the public back in public power.

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