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Bill Johnson speaks as the TVA board of directors hold a public meeting at TVA's Chattanooga Office Complex.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Providing the lowest-cost energy, responsibly managing natural resources and supporting job creation are all part of Tennessee Valley Authority's partnership with the local municipalities and power cooperatives that sell TVA power, TVA President Bill Johnson said Thursday.

"If can make sure everybody has a job, and they can go fishing and they have a bill they can afford to pay, then we're being successful," Johnson told the Cleveland Utilities board during a visit Thursday.

Johnson credited a conversation with Ken Webb, president and CEO of Cleveland Utilities, as an inspiration for his customer-oriented focus, describing their talk as "a seminal experience."

Webb simply asked him if anyone at TVA truly understood the impact that the agency's decisions had on local utility customers, said Johnson.

"The truth is, they're your customers, but they're our people," said Johnson. "That really focused my view on what we're supposed to do."

As part of connecting TVA with local energy customers, a number of the agency's officers spent time with Cleveland Utilities' customer service.

"I really appreciate his focus on the end-user customer," said Bart Borden, vice president of Cleveland Utilities' electric division. "Their time here enabled them to get connected in a way that shows them a real world experience."

Johnson said this year is one of the biggest ever for capital investments by the federal utility as TVA finishes construction of the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor, installs coal scrubbers at the Cumberland Fossil Plant near Nashville and builds new natural gas plants in Tennessee and Kentucky.

But those expenditures will taper off in the near future, said Johnson.

A "big decision" will likely need to be made in the next five or six years regarding whether TVA will build new nuclear power plants, he said.

Nearly every nuclear facility currently in operation will retire between 2030 and 2050, assuming a 60-year life span for the plants, said Johnson.

The fuel efficiency of nuclear power is "almost unimaginable," but it will take "political willpower" to support a program of power plant construction, he said.

Overall, Johnson said he expects to see less coal use, more renewable energy and improved efficiency in TVA's future.

Technological advances in the next 20 years will likely surpass the advances made in the last 100 years of electrical power, he said.

"I think we are on the precipice ... of tremendous change," said Johnson. "Customers use electricity a lot differently than they used to. We make it differently."

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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