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The TVA building and Market Street are seen from the Republic Centre building in Chattanooga.

Nearly 10,000 TVA employees will soon have an extra reason to be thankful when the federal utility distributes $133 million in "winning performance" payments to workers just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday in recognition of the utility's record profits and other achievements in the past year.

For the median-income employee at TVA who was paid $134,749 in compensation in fiscal 2019, the yearly performance bonus will equal $6,840. But the amount of the special checks going to TVA workers during the week of Thanksgiving will vary widely from 5% of annual pay for a majority of TVA employees up to 150% of the annual salary for TVA CEO Jeff Lyash.

TVA met or surpassed most of its performance targets in fiscal 2019, earning a record $1.4 billion in net income, cutting TVA's debt to the lowest level in 30 years and providing lower electric charges for many local power companies this fall for the first time in six years.

"So 2019 was a great year for TVA and we look forward to building on those positive results in 2020 and beyond," Lyash told investors during an earnings call today.

Lyash, TVA's new CEO, is the biggest beneficiary of the strong performance with bonus payments swelling his total compensation to a record high of more than $8.1 million, making Lyash America's highest paid federal employee.

TVA SUCCESSES IN 2019

* Cut carbon emissions to 60% below TVA's 2005 emissions and is on pact to reduce such carbon dioxide emissions by 70% from the 2005 levels by 2030.

* Managed the Tennessee River amid heavy rains to prevent $12 billion in flood damage.

* Helped add or retain more than 66,000 jobs from nearly $9 billion in capital investment by TVA's economic development program, earning TVA listing among the "Top 10 Utilities" for economic development by Site Selection magazine for the 14th consecutive year.

* Completed the extended power uprate at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant to add 465 megawatts of additional carbon-free energy from the three reactors at the Alabama plant.

* Delivered power to its customers with at least 99.999% reliability for the 20th consecutive year.

But nearly all of TVA's workers will share in the winning performance payments, which are designed to encourage and reward employee activities that enhance TVA's objectives. TVA's winning performance payments this year will be less than a year ago, when the utility paid a total of $144.5 million, or $7,230 for the median-paid TVA employee.

Sue Collins, TVA's senior vice president and chief human resources officer, said TVA achieved 130% of its targets in 2018 and 116% of its objectives in 2019.

"When we achieve our stretch goals in a year, those often become our basic target goals for the next year as we continue to raise the bar higher for performance," Collins said. "In our pay-for-performance environment, we want to work each year on continuous improvement. That is working as you can see from our results."

TVA employs the consulting firm of Willis Towers Watson Energy Services to survey 37 other electric utilities for employee compensation levels.

Under its congressional authorizing legislation, the TVA board is directed to pay competitive wages and salaries to its workers and executives. TVA officials said its compensation levels help ensure the agency attracts qualified and skilled personnel to run America's biggest government-owned utility, which serves nearly 10 million people in seven Southeastern states.

"We compete in the market," Collins said. "We're not overpaying in the market, but we need to be competitive for the talent that delivers this type of results."

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