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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Jeff Lyash speaks with the Times Free Press from the TVA Chattanooga Office Complex in 2019.

Being America's highest-paid federal employee is nice work if you can get it. Just ask that guy — TVA's CEO Jeff Lyash, who got a 35% raise in pay during the past year to boost his total compensation to a record high of nearly $9.9 million.

How would you like get a $2.6 million a year raise? Yeah! Wouldn't we all?

How did Lyash do that? TVA's board members said the 60-year-old former Ontario Power Generation Inc CEO who joined TVA in 2019 helped the federal utility meet or exceed all its major corporate goals over the past year.

Those goals include things like keeping profits up, driving debt down, keeping electric rates low, keeping power production reliable, growing economic development. He did that, according to the board. In fact, the utility saw record profits in the past year while cutting rates and debt.

OK. That's nice, and those are all fine corporate business goals.

But not for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Not for the bold New Deal federal agency created in 1933 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the United States Congress to bring the nation — and the South particularly — back from the depths of the Great Depression.

Not for the bold TVA that in the 1940s, against the backdrop of World War II, employed 9,000 people to embark on one of the largest hydropower construction programs ever undertaken in this country, building 16 dams in 11 years to tame the biggest rivers in the South, bring flood control to the region and electricity to homes and businesses that had only oil lamps and pot-bellied stoves. By the 1950s, that boldness made TVA the nation's largest electricity supplier.

Not for the bold TVA that in the 1960s dreamed of building 17 nuclear plants to expand power capacity. In the end, TVA built four plants (with seven reactors) and scrapped one — Bellefonte in Northeast Alabama.

Not for the bold TVA that in the 2000s launched the first green power program in the Southeast. Nor the boldfaced TVA that later realized green power and conservation efforts lowered its future ability to drive profit higher. Since, TVA has pretty much ended those programs.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / TVA President & CEO Jeff Lyash speaks during a Press Conference to announce the installation of a solar-powered arbor pavilion that will reduce energy consumption and enhance sustainability educational opportunities at Rock City. on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021 in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

That's about where the boldness ended. Now TVA seems to be satisfied with keeping the status quo.

And that's too bad, because with climate change steaming toward and over us, we could really use some boldness. With some of that boldness now, we could really see a good reason for boosting Lyash's payday by more than two-and-a-half-million clams a year.

What's that? Don't we enjoy TVA's low electricity rates?

Well, yeah. But let's be realistic. Even the 2021 TVA Strategic Intent and Guiding Principles" document released in May nods that "low" is really "lower effective rates" than a decade ago.

Semantics aside, all the "lower effective" electricity rates in the world won't mean much as climate change upends the landscapes around us and changes our lives in ways we've yet to imagine.

And, no, we don't care that TVA's board — all Donald Trump appointees — continues to justify the massive pay bumps of the CEO and other TVA leadership by saying these leaders are still paid below their peers in the power industry.

Certainly, competitive pay and best talent has a good ring to it, but giving those TVA leaders multimillion-dollar raises seems to be the only boldness TVA is mustering these days — aside from blocking cities like Memphis from using TVA's power grid to bring cheaper power from across the Mississippi River, blocking wind power buys from the west and cutting energy efficiency programs.

Environmental groups are rightly objecting to raising Lyash's pay while stymieing alternative power and energy efficiency.

"The raise for TVA's CEO is a slap in the face for customers that continue to struggle to pay high electricity bills across the TVA territory," said Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "Based on public records, with this raise TVA will be spending nearly three times as much each year on its CEO's salary compared to contributions made for low-income energy efficiency programs that would lower energy bills and put more savings in the pockets of customers in TVA's seven-state service territory."

Herman Morris Jr., an attorney and consultant to Friends of the Earth who also was formerly president of TVA's biggest customer — Memphis Light, Gas and Water — said Monday in a phone interview he is "amazed and shocked" the TVA board would grant such a big pay raise to a public sector employee at an agency created to help lift an impoverished region up during the Great Depression in the 1930s. "TVA was created to serve the public," he said.

In May, Lyash said he wants to decarbonize TVA by 2050, but he didn't explain how that will happen. What's more, by 2050, we're already well on our way to becoming a different and hotter landscape.

Come on, TVA. Enough with the careful, corporate, bonus-building. Build toward our future with wind and solar power.

Reinvest in boldness.

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