Memphis accountant V. Lynn Evans was elected Thursday to chair the Tennessee Valley Authority this year as the utility's board transitions from all Democrats to a majority of Republican directors under incoming President Donald Trump.
Evans, who was appointed to the TVA board four years ago after serving as chairwoman of TVA's biggest customer, is the first African-American to serve as chairperson of TVA in its 83-year history. She is also the first female and first Memphis resident to chair the board.
"I am honored that my fellow board members have confidence in my abilities to serve as chair," Evans said after the votes by the six-member board were tallied Thursday following notational balloting from the directors' homes across the Tennessee Valley. "TVA has made great strides in the past four years to improve its financial and operational performance. I look forward to our continuous efforts to set strategic priorities and drive for strong results, which benefit all of the people of the Tennessee Valley."
Evans succeeds Joe Ritch, a Huntsville attorney whose term on the board ended Jan. 3, along with directors Pete Mahurin, formerly chair of TVA's finance, rates and portfolio committee, and Mike McWherter, chair of the external relations committee. The three Democrats were reappointed to the board last year by President Barack Obama, but the Republican-controlled Senate declined to confirm their appointments with a Republican administration coming into office today at the White House.
Evans could also soon be replaced on the TVA board. Her term expires May 18 along with that of director Marilyn Brown, although the two could serve the rest of the calendar year if no new appointment is made and confirmed before then.
Trump, who has vowed to revive the coal industry, deregulate more of the economy and boost infrastructure incentives, will be able to appoint a majority of the TVA board within the next four months. A Trump administration could use those appointments to redirect TVA back toward more coal-fired generation or potentially even try to sell the government-owned utility.
Tennessee's Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, each said they will work to preserve TVA and to help it keep power rates low in the region. The two could play a role in picking new TVA nominees.
Trump's attorney general-designate, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, also could play a role in selecting new TVA board members. As a U.S. senator from Alabama, Sessions was reportedly upset by TVA's closing over the past couple of years of both of the state's coal plants — Widows Creek near Stevenson and Colbert on TVA's Pickwick Reservoir in northwest Alabama — and the shutdown and sale of the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant.
TVA bylaws call for the selection of a board chair within 30 calendar days of the chair's vacancy to ensure the board can continue to work. Evans will appoint new committees for the slimmed-down board when directors next meet on Feb. 16 in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
TVA spokeswoman Gail Rymer said the TVA board decided to meet in Gatlinburg next month to show support for Sevier County in the wake of the wildfires there last year that ended up killing 13 people.
Evans has served as chair of TVA's audit committee. She is a native of Anguilla, Miss., and owns V. Lynn Evans, CPA, a certified public accounting and consulting firm established in 1983.
Evans previously served as chairwoman of TVA's biggest distributor, Memphis Light, Gas & Water, from 2008 to 2009. She has also served on the board of directors of First Alliance Bank in Memphis since its inception in 1998.
TVA Director Richard Howorth, a former Oxford, Miss., mayor, called Evans "a seasoned TVA board member with sterling credentials, a strong work ethic, and a keen understanding of and appreciation for TVA's legacy and its continuing relevance.
"She is a consummate professional with special skills in audit and finance areas," Howorth said. "I am sure she will be an excellent chair, and she has the complete confidence of the directors and, I believe, executive staff."
Despite the partisan shift in the White House and the coming appointees to the TVA board, Howorth said TVA's mission should ensure.
"I believe TVA has made good strides in the time I have been on the board and see no reason for that to change," Howorth said in a statement today. "We are down to six directors and look forward to being back to a full board and working with the three new appointees."
The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association on Thursday also welcomed the choice of Evans to chair the TVA board.
"Experienced leadership is necessary to ensure that TVA delivers low-cost, reliable energy to its utility customers and the people of our region," said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.