published Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Selling TVA is a bad idea: Imagine the ramifications




The TVA building in downtown Chattanooga.
The TVA building in downtown Chattanooga.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Selling TVA to state and local owners is not only a bad idea, it's highly unlikely. Unless ...

First, let's examine the "unlikely" part.

Try to imagine Gov. Bill Haslam having oversight of an electric power utility with three nuclear plants and a den of aging coal power plants. Remember, this is the same man who turned down the federal government's complete funding of TennCare for three years and 90 percent of its cost thereafter. He heads the same state government that is so far behind on the Volunteer State's own rollout of a HealthCare.gov-like website for TennCare that state officials won't even estimate a completion date.

And can anyone imagine Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke or the Red Bank mayor or the East Ridge mayor being ready to propose taking on a $1.2 billion Kingston ash spill debt and cleanup?

Then there's the "unless" part.

What if the Atlanta mayor makes a bid for TVA, or Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal? After all, TVA -- to make all of the electricity for 155 power cooperatives and municipalities in parts of seven states across the Southeast -- manages the Tennessee River and its tributaries.

Goodbye, river. Talk of a new

TennTom-like ditch to divert your flow toward thirsty Atlanta could begin lickety-split.

Yet, despite all those horrifying possibilities, part of President Barack Obama's otherwise seemingly sound 2015 budget proposal does, in fact, include an Office of Management and Budget suggestion to consider selling the Tennessee Valley Authority to state or local governments, power cooperatives or other energy companies.

"The administration continues to believe that reducing or eliminating the federal government's role in programs such as TVA, which have achieved their original objectives, can help mitigate risk to taxpayers," OMB states in its budget plan.

"The administration ... stands ready to work with the Congress and TVA's stakeholders to explore options to end federal ties to TVA, including alternatives such as a transfer of ownership to state and local stakeholders," according to the OMB.

TVA was created by Congress in 1933 as part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The federal agency for more than five decades has been completely electric ratepayer financed, and it hasn't received direct appropriations from Congress even for environmental programs since the 1980s.

But the debt of the self-funded TVA, about $28 billion, is counted as part of the overall U.S. debt -- even though TVA pays its own debt and Congress has capped TVA's debt at $30 billion.

TVA and OMB officials have been studying the financial status of TVA and options for its future over the past year in closed-door meetings. That in itself is not only scary, it's infuriating. Closed-door meetings? The fate of a federal agency that lights homes and businesses in seven states and is financed by ratepayers is being discussed in secret?

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., among other lawmakers in the Tennessee Valley, has criticized the Obama administration for proposing to dispose of TVA.

Last year, Alexander called OMB's consideration of selling TVA "one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas."

On selling TVA, Alexander is 100 percent right.

As for all you folks behind closed doors kicking around which state and local yokels will manage Sequoyah Nuclear Plant and the Tennessee River -- we want our money back.

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