Chattanooga financier and multimillionaire Franklin Haney is always looking for a deal, and his trademark is making money from Uncle Sam by leasing building space to the federal government, while making use of tax loopholes and credits.
This year, he has been busy trying to become a nuclear power producer -- or at least a partial owner of the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant. Haney has offered to help finance the completion of Bellefonte for TVA, which is limited by Congress as to how much debt it can hold. Completing Bellefonte would push TVA above that debt limit without some very creative bean-counting.
Haney, a 73-year-old native of McMinn County who says he remembers when TVA strung power lines to his family's home, says his intention is altruistic and for the good of the Tennessee Valley.
"I'm not doing this because I need the money," Haney told Times Free Press Business Editor Dave Flessner. "If it's not done, I think people will look back 10 years from now and wonder why they [TVA] didn't listen to this idea and finish Bellefonte when they could."
But Bellefonte -- the nearly 40-year-old, half-finished TVA nuclear plant in Hollywood, Ala. -- has proven so far to be a giant money suck. Since 1974, TVA has spent $6 billion on the plant, and it estimates that completing just one of the two reactors planned there would cost another $7.4 billion to $8.7 billion. TVA ratepayers this year will spend another $65 million just to maintain and provide security for the half-finished plant 40 miles southwest of Chattanooga.
Haney's offer would enable TVA to recoup the money spent there to date, and Haney argues it would also save TVA $8 billion now budgeted for cleaning up aging coal plants to keep them viable as new carbon rules take affect. With Bellefonte operational, the coal plants could be shuttered, he says.
"This won't cost TVA one penny, but there happens to be $2.2 billion of tax credits ... that nobody is competing for," Haney said. [The tax credits are not available to TVA because it is a government agency, but they would be available to Haney or any other private owner of Bellefonte in a lease-back arrangement with TVA.]
Yet even TVA says no to Haney:
"... At the moment the proposal does not match up with the plan that we're working," said TVA President Bill Johnson. TVA projects that it will not need the power from Bellefonte even after shuttering another eight coal-fired generating units in the next couple of years.
TVA's decision not to take the help seems to say more clearly than ever that the so-called nuclear renaissance is dead -- assassinated by the combination of Fukushima's tsunami-induced meltdowns and this nation's clearly uncontrollable escalating costs to safely build and operate nuclear plants.
But Haney, described by Flessner as a politically savvy, well-connected, "never-say-die" financier, likely won't give up. Nor should he. Perhaps he might open Bellefonte as a year-round zombie and Halloween haunt attraction?
More realistically, perhaps TVA might interest Haney in some wind and solar farms? Or energy conservation programs?
And how about it, Mr. Wheeler-Dealer, sir: Why not use your very strong political pull to lobby Congress for new venture capital financing incentives and nuclear-comparable tax credits for renewable energy?
Failing that, perhaps -- for the good of the Tennessee Valley -- you could create a philanthropic fund to pay for home weatherization or even rooftop solar panels for homes of needy and middle-class families.
Can we hear a bid for upping the charitable deduction limit?