Pam's Points: With energy and politics, out with old and in with new

Pam's Points: With energy and politics, out with old and in with new

August 6th, 2014 in Opinion Times

We cut power, TVA cuts jobs

It is as it should be: With milder weather and customers who are gradually becoming more mindful of energy consumption (and their money), TVA's power sales are down and expected to remain low over a four-year period.

The fix, according to TVA President Bill Johnson, is an effort to trim $500 million a year in Tennessee Valley Authority operating expenses. The whittling began earlier this year and will continue until the 12,600-person TVA workforce is slimmed by about 2,000 jobs - half of them this year.

So far, about 750 people have retired or left TVA voluntarily and not been replaced. Another 250 or so have been involuntarily terminated, Johnson says.

Is it painful? Certainly. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Ratepayers know that comfortable lifestyles and new jobs here depend, in part, on affordable electricity.

But milder weather and growing interest in energy savings were not the only holes in TVA's wallet. The agency also has had a swollen expenses budget. There was that $1.2 billion coal ash spill cleanup over the past six years at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn. And just this week TVA agreed to pay another $27.8 million to settle claims from 800 Tennessee property owners who suffered damages from the huge 2008 spill of toxins-laden sludge that covered more than 300 acres and a portion of the Emory River. In those same years, cost of completion of the new second reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant doubled over the initial $2.5 billion sticker price.

Meanwhile, the very handsomely paid TVA managers have made more money every year, and the very able Johnson, earning $5.9 million a year, is the highest-paid federal government employee in the country. He makes nearly 15 times as much as the $400,000 salary of President Barack Obama, and nearly 30 times the $200,700 salary of the U.S. Secretary of Energy. The median annual pay for TVA workers is $73,000, but the utility paid its top five managers just under $13.5 million last year.

Put it all together, and the energy TVA makes is no longer cheap. Instead, it is smack in the middle, as wholesale energy goes. That means TVA's "affordable" energy is no longer serving as a big draw to lure new jobs to the seven Southeast states TVA serves. And fewer new jobs mean TVA's customer base can't grow.

Sure makes solar and wind power all the more attractive, huh?

New fields, new jobs, new savings.

Politics in other places

With the frantic pace of politics reaching shark attack frenzy locally, it's nice occasionally to back away and just sit in front of the television to watch the fray somewhere else - like Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is fighting for his political life against Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Clips are running on all three of the major cable news stations of the McConnell/Grimes encounters during the weekend at the annual Fancy Farm picnic in rural western Kentucky, a yearly politicking event since 1880.

Predictably, McConnell, 72, spent much of his speech time berating President Obama and linking Grimes with Obama: "Barack Obama only needs one thing to keep his grip on power. He needs to keep the U.S. Senate," McConnell said, as supporters waved signs that said "Grimes = Obama."

Grimes countered: "Senator, you seem to think the president is on the ballot this year. He's not. This race is between me and you!"

McConnell droned on, pointing fingers at the president, but Grimes cinched the debate: "If Mitch McConnell were a TV show, he'd be 'Mad Men,'" she said, prompting laughs and reminding listeners that McConnell voted against the Violence Against Women Act and equal pay legislation.

"Thanks to you, [Sen. McConnell] D.C. stands for Doesn't Care."

What fun! When you become bored with our tired drones between now and election day, just flip to the national news and watch the sparks fly.