OXFORD – TVA’s chief executive officer told a University of Mississippi audience Tuesday the quasi-governmental agency’s power production and distribution serve in a support role to TVA’s real mission.
“What you’re really about is giving people in the Valley a chance at a better living,” Bill Johnson said at a forum on energy and economic development at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.
It is no accident, however, that TVA, the nation’s leading power supplier, supports development efforts in the region.
“In economic development, power is always a key – not just the availability of power or the cost, but the reliability,” said David Copenhaver, former VP for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi. “If you shut the assembly line down for 30 minutes or an hour, you’re looking at big dollars.”
David Rumbarger, CEO of Tupelo-based CDF, added that TVA’s capabilities and stability helped bring Toyota and related industries to the region.
“Affordable energy was a factor in all our plant locations,” he said. “One of the things you don’t want as a plant manager is for your costs to increase, and utilities are one of the costs.”
J.R. “Josh” Gladden, director of the National Center for Physical Acoustics at Ole Miss, said one exciting area of energy-related physics research is materials science and engineering.
“There’s also a lot of active work in biotars and alternative biofuels from renewable sources. The kind of research I do is alternative mechanisms for generating energy,” he said.
Overby noted that TVA’s electricity today is generated from about one-third coal, one-third nuclear and the rest from gas along with hydroelectric and a tiny percentage of other renewable sources.
In answer to Overby’s follow-up question, Johnson said TVA will probably open a long-awaited nuclear plant next year. He estimated that by 2023 TVA’s generation would be 40 percent nuclear, 20 percent coal, 20 percent gas and the rest from renewable and alternative sources.
Although he believes climate change will compel the eventual disuse of fossil fuels, Johnson said, “Conventional power we’ll probably witness for another century in this country.”
TVA directors are in Oxford several days this week. They will hold a question-and-answer session for the public at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Inn at Ole Miss, followed by their monthly meeting, also open to the public.