GLENN L. MCCULLOUGH – TVA at 75: Powerful past, bright future

New record crude prices. Old pumps hit the wall at $3.99 a gallon. Natural gas prices spike. Climate change threatens polar ice cap. Soft economy, bear stock market. Housing market tumbles.

These familiar headlines are all frequent lead stories these days.

The common thread is the interrelationship between energy, environment and economy. This relationship was the basis for creating an institution “clothed with the power of government possessing the flexibility of private enterprise,” as President Franklin Roosevelt described the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. TVA this week celebrates its 75th anniversary – a long, proud history of serving the Tennessee Valley, providing reliable, affordable electricity, supporting a thriving river system, and stimulating economic growth.

Sen. George Norris of Nebraska, with support from Mississippi's 1st District Rep. John Rankin sold Roosevelt on the notion that the Tennessee River could be tamed, floods prevented, topsoil protected and jobs brought to the most depressed region of a depressed nation through affordable hydro-electric power generation.

Environmental stewardship took the form of protecting farmland along the Tennessee River basin, planting seedlings for reforestation and developing the world's most advanced fertilizers to enhance crop production. The Tennessee River reservoir system of integrated management was designed by TVA to optimize the value of water for flood control, navigation, power generation, fresh water supply, recreation and economic development.

While the valley's agrarian economy was TVA's focus in the early years, the seeds of economic change were planted. Powered by hard-working people, low-cost electricity and low taxes, the valley's economy grew in the 1950's and 1960's, requiring TVA to build 11 coal-fired power plants. TVA's expansion from hydro to coal was logical because coal was America's most abundant low-cost energy resource with rich reserves in Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia.

The Red Hills Lignite mine and 440-watt Choctaw generation plant near Ackerman is an excellent example of TVA's energy, environment and economy balance with abundant, affordable Mississippi lignite. This “clean coal” generation provides good jobs and low cost electricity to consumers and industry.

TVA is a leader in nuclear power generation. Nuclear power is safe, reliable, low-cost and clean. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and utilities that operate nuclear reactors are committed to continuous improvement in safety standards and plant reliability. About 30 percent of TVA's power supply comes from its three nuclear plants: Browns Ferry, near Athens, Ala.; Sequoyah, in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., and Watts Bar, near Spring City, Tenn. Those plants make enough electricity to power more than three million homes in the Tennessee Valley.

TVA strives to be a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The largest wind energy farm in the Southeast is on Buffalo Mountain, near Oak Ridge, Tenn. TVA operates solar panels at Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Local public power distributors and TVA provide energy conservation through the Energy Right program which has received the “energy star” award from the Department of Energy.

Heart of the mission
Economic development is at the heart of TVA's mission. On Feb. 7, 1934, the City of Tupelo entered into the first wholesale power contract with TVA, becoming “The First TVA City.” Since then, through the Community Development Foundation, North Mississippi Industrial Development Association and the Appalachian Regional Commission, and other development organizations, Mississippi leaders and TVA have taken bold action like the Certified Automotive Megasite program. It has helped attract Toyota, SeverCorr, American Eurocopter, Stark Aerospace and other leading international corporations.

This economic development teamwork is working – evidenced by the fact that for the past two consecutive years, Site Selection magazine has named TVA the best utility economic development program in the U.S.

Today's energy, environmental and economic realities mean that TVA's work continues. The answer to making our nation and world energy secure, environmentally sustainable and economically vibrant will not be found in narrow, separate or non-inclusive policies. What's called for is a global integrated energy, climate, economic declaration of interdependence, including China and India, that will serve the needs of people here at home and around the world for generations to come.

On May 18, 1963 in Muscle Shoals, Ala., President John F. Kennedy said, “The work of TVA will never be over. There will always be new frontiers to conquer. For in the minds of people the world over, the initials TVA stand for progress.”

Forty-five years later those words are just as true.

Glenn L. McCullough, Jr. is a former chairman of the
Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors and former mayor of Tupelo. He resides in Tupelo and is a partner in a consulting firm.