Alexander, Corker urge Trump to pull plug on plan to sell TVA electric transmission lines

Corker says sale would would be harmful to Tennessee Valley; Alexander calls proposal a 'looney idea'

Staff file photo by Tim Barber/ Workers uncoil a line at the base of a TVA transmission tower before pulling new high-tension power lines near the Widows Creek Coal plant in Stevenson, Ala.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker on Thursday called on President Donald Trump's administration to drop plans to sell off the federal electric transmission assets of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Power Marketing Administration.

"TVA's continued success and ability to provide low-cost power is vital to the TVA region's families and businesses," Alexander said in a joint news release with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., whose state is also served by public power and also called for Trump to scratch the proposal.

Calling it a "looney idea," Alexander said the notion of "selling TVA and TVA's transmission lines seems to keep popping up regardless of who is president, and each of those proposals have all been soundly rejected by Congress."

Noting that President Barack Obama made a similar proposal in 2013, Alexander said that "all it did was undermine TVA's credit, raise interest rates on TVA's debt and threaten to increase electric bills for 9 million ratepayers."

Corker noted that "while TVA hasn't received any taxpayer funding since 1999 and has taken positive steps in recent years to pay down its debt, I do think it's valuable to evaluate from time to time reforms that could cause TVA to function more effectively for Tennessee taxpayers and ratepayers.

"That said," Corker added, "at the end of the day, I continue to believe that selling TVA's transmission lines would be harmful to the Tennessee Valley and remains a very unlikely outcome."

Earlier Thursday, the Trump administration released a follow-up plan to reorganize federal agencies pursuant to the president's earlier signed executive in March 2017 that included a proposal to sell the federal electric transmission assets of and PMA.

Both candidates in race to succeed Corker, who isn't seeking re-election, weighed in opposing the administration's TVA plan as they did when it first surfaced in the spring.

"TVA runs a vital service, and I do not support the sale of TVA's transmission lines," Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood said in a statement.

Back in April, Blackburn and other Tennessee congressional delegation members as well as several colleagues in Kentuckyr and Alabama aised bi-partisan concerns in a letter about the proposal, noting "TVA is on a good path. Its leadership has made sound decisions that will benefit ratepayers and our region."

Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen denounced the proposal Thursday as he did when it first surfaced.

"Selling TVA's transmission network is a terrible idea and without question would be bad for Tennessee," said Bredesen, a former governor who opposed the idea when it was raised by Obama.

"That network is a valuable asset that has been paid for by TVA's customers over almost a century," Bredesen said. "It's efficient and reliable, and a sale makes no sense if you're thinking about what Tennesseans need instead of how to increase the profits of some corporation."

The Trump administration document released Thursday is titled "Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century Organization Design Principles and Recommendations." It has a section called "Divesting Federal Transmission Assets" at TVA as well as the U.S. Department of Energy.

It argues government ownership - TVA is an independent federal entity - "creates unnecessary risk for taxpayers and distorts private markets that are better equipped to carry-out this function."

The section also says "the vast majority of the Nation's electricity needs are met through for-profit investor-owned utilities. Ownership of transmission assets is best carried out by the private sector, where there are appropriate market and regulatory incentives."

Moreover, the Trump administration argues "a strong justification no longer exists for the Federal Government to own and operate these systems," again citing the private sector.

But the document later notes "federal transmission infrastructure assets (lines, towers, substations, and/or right of ways) could be broken off from the generation assets and sold separately, and the private sector and/or State and local entities could carry out the transmission functions now provided by TVA and the PMAs."

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, whose members supply TVA-generated power in many parts of the state, said in a statement that the federal utility's transmission assets "are important to residents of the Tennessee Valley.

"The federal government's original investment in TVA has been fully repaid with interest by the people served by TVA, and these assets should not be sold to outside investors. If the administration wishes to divest of TVA transmission assets, they should be transferred to their rightful owners – the consumers of TVA power."

He noted that Tennessee's electric co-ops are owned by the people they serve "and we will pursue all options, including purchase of TVA assets, to protect our rate payers and the transmission lines they have paid to build."

TVA is a corporate agency of the federal government that provides electricity to large businesses and local publicly owned power entities serving an estimated nine million people in most of Tennessee as well as parts of Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky.

Sen. Cantwell noted that in Washington state, the federal Bonneville Power Administration (PBA) supplies reliable hydro-power.

"The Trump Administration's proposal to privatize BPA is a terrible idea. Replacing cheap cost-based power with more expensive energy is bad for consumers and bad for business," Cantwell said in the joint news release with Alexander.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.