published Friday, April 19th, 2013

TVA leaders welcome debt review

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    Tennessee Valley Authority headquarters and TVA logo
    Photo by Miranda Harple

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TVA's top leaders said Thursday that the federal utility will cooperate with the Obama administration's call for a review of the federal utility and its debt that is carried in the federal deficit.

President and CEO Bill Johnson and board Chairman Bill Sansom said they believe TVA is "a good business model" that is funded totally by ratepayers, not taxpayers.

"We'll cooperate and participate, and we're glad to see the review. In the meantime, we've got to focus and direct management's attention on running the place right," Sansom said at a board meeting Thursday in Columbia, Tenn.

Johnson reminded the group of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's vision in creating TVA.

"The heart of that vision is a not-for-profit public power [maker], which is a tremendous value. People in this region enjoy some of the most reliable, affordable and ever-cleaner electricity in the country. And TVA and the regional public power companies work really hard every day to keep it that way," Johnson said.

Board members voted Thursday to appoint a Regional Energy Resource Council. The citizens advisory group would provide the utility "a formal channel for receiving diverse perspectives on energy issues on a regular basis," Johnson said.

River rights and ethics

Board members also heard from the public -- including a trade association that wants the utility to fight to hang on to its authority over the Tennessee River.

Cline Jones, executive director of the Tennessee River Valley Association, told TVA board members that his group opposes any transfer of Tennessee River water to Georgia.

Jones, whose nonpartisan, nonprofit group represents towing companies, barge lines, port and terminal operators, municipalities and related businesses, urged the board also to oppose any water transfers to Georgia and seriously consider other potential future transfers.

Garry Morgan, a Hollywood, Ala., member of several anti-nuclear groups, asked Sansom to examine the ethics of his stock holdings and connections that may be affected by TVA's use of fossil fuels.

"Mr. Chairman, due to your holdings in mining and businesses in and out of the valley, there appear to be conflicting issues with your business and stock holdings and the TVA," Morgan said.

Morgan also challenged Sansom over his position as a director of First Horizon, the bank that holds TVA employees' health savings accounts.

After the meeting, Morgan said he turned over his findings -- from public records online -- to the TVA inspector general. Morgan said he found connections to Astec Industries and Martin Marietta Materials that raised his curiosity.

That curiosity also sparked interest from another group often critical of TVA: the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The group blogged about Morgan's questions to Sansom immediately after the Thursday meeting.

"These financial connections to companies within and related to the coal industry, as well as his own history as president of the American Limestone Company, raise the specter of impropriety around Sansom's position as Chairman of the TVA Board," states the blog, Footprints on the Path to Clean Energy.

Under a 2011 consent decree, TVA must either retire or install scrubber technology on many of its coal plants in the next five years.

The blog continues: "If a person would benefit financially from TVA's future reliance on coal-fired generation, can we trust that same person to make objective decisions about whether to invest $1 billion in retrofitting a coal-plant or invest in developing renewable energy generation sources?"

TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield, speaking for TVA and Sansom, said the utility is required by law regularly to review the interests and positions held by board members.

"The most recent review of Bill's filings disclosed no conflicts of interest under either federal standards or of the more stringent standards adopted by our Board which are applicable to them and the CEO," Mansfield said, adding that board members' financial holdings are reviewed "before every board meeting."

He said that is "to identify any potential conflicts with TVA business that are coming up for a vote, so they can recuse themselves."

Contact staff writer Pam Sohn at 432-757-6346 or psohn@timesfreepress.com.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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