TVA to cut spending, employees under Trump budget plan

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s preliminary budget plan for fiscal 2018, unveiled Tuesday by the Trump White House,  projects the agency will trim its capital spending next year by $677 million, cut its operating expenses by $263 million and trim its staff by another 316 employees compared with the current year.

Further from the Times Free Press:

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Revised Haslam budget pays TVA $11.8M to keep Ocoee River rafting afloat

The state will provide $11.8 million to TVA to keep the Ocoee River rafting industry afloat for the next 20 years under the newly-revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget for the coming fiscal year, reports the Times-Free Press.

The state money will reimburse TVA for the cost of power lost when the Polk County river flows freely during the spring, summer and early fall, allowing whitewater rafting operations. Otherwise, TVA diverts the river flow into a plume for electric power generation.

“It’s a huge win for Southeast Tennessee,” said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who along with Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, have been working with the whitewater industry and their representatives, Haslam, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, TVA, the U.S. Forest Service and others to come to an agreement.

Bell and Howell have legislation (HB74) moving in the General Assembly to create a new type of water authority, the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund, to support recreational water releases on the Ocoee.

The new entity would be overseen by an 11-member board and all fees currently paid by whitewater rafting customers to TVA would go into the fund.

Note: TVA now receives funds to repay for loss of power generation through a fee tacked onto each ticket sold by rafting operations, but an agreement on the matter expires in 2018. Under the new deal, TVA gets its money up front, the new development fund gets the fees (expected to be about $4 per ticket) and repays the state over a period of years.

Sen. Yager eyed for appointment to TVA board

State Sen. Ken Yager is being considered for appointment to the TVA Board of Directors. The Kingston Republican says he finds the prospect “flattering” and would be inclined to accept to enhance the viewpoint of electricity ratepayers if President Donald Trump ultimately nominates him for the position.

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Lamar trying to micromanage TVA?

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says he’s just exercising his congressional oversight power in his latest attack on wind-powered electricity generation, but Michael Colllins reports that  a clean energy advocacy group says he’s trying to micromanage the Tennessee Valley Authority from Washington.

For nearly 12 minutes (in a Senate floor speech Wednesday), the Maryville Republican spoke out against a Texas company’s plans to build a $2 billion, 700-mile transmission line that would bring Oklahoma wind power across Arkansas to Memphis.

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TVA gets new board chairman

Memphis accountant V. Lynn Evans was unanimously elected Thursday as chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, reports the Times-Free Press.

Evans, who was appointed to the TVA board four years ago, is the first African-American to serve as chair in TVA’s 83-year history. She is also the first female and first Memphian to chair the board.

“I am honored that my fellow board members have confidence in my abilities to serve as chair,” Evans said in a statement today. “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.”

Trump poised to reshape TVA, Oak Ridge National Lab policies

The Times-Free Press today has a lengthy analysis of President-elect Donald Trump’s potential impact on the two biggest Tennessee operations under federal control – the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory operated by the Department of Energy.

At TVA, Trump will be able to appoint a majority of TVA board members this year. Given that he promised on the campaign trail to revive the nation’s coal industry, that sets up a potential clash with current TVA policy of reducing the use of coal in electricity generation.

TVA has cut its share of power derived from coal from more than two thirds of its generation in the late 1980s to only about a third of TVA’s generation today. TVA CEO Bill Johnson, appointed by the Obama board and recently given a pay raise, says TVA’s long-term goal is to get no more than 20 percent of its power from coal.

At ORNL, Trump has pledged to rebuild and modernize the nation’s nuclear capability. That could mean billions more in spending at ORNL and related facilities in Tennessee.

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are quoted saying, basically, they are content with the way things are going now at TVA and don’t expect any dramatic changes under a Trump-appointed board – though some business leaders and power distributors are quoted as being concerned about the prospect.

Both senators voice optimism about things at ORNL and the Department of Energy, where Trump has nominated former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as secretary – though Perry has called for abolishing DOE.

Obama signs bill blocking plan to ban floating homes on TVA lakes

President Barack Obama has signed into law a congressional bill that prevents the Tennessee Valley Authority from removing floating homes from its lakes, reports WJHL.

Back in May, TVA voted 7-2 on a 30 year sunset on floating homes… In September, North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Senators filed legislation in response to the TVA’s proposal.

Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis introduced an amendment to The Water Resources Development Act of 2016. Congress passed the bill. Now the new law no longer requires floating home owners to get rid of their floating homes within the next 30 years, as long as rules are followed.

“We wanted to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to safely enjoys these great natural resources that the TVA manages for the public throughout the valley,” TVA Spokesperson Jim Hopson explains.

He said those rules have not been defined yet.

“A series of requirements will be created to address specific safety, environmental, and navigational safety issues associated with having floating houses or floating cabins on TVA’s reservoirs,” he said.

He says floating home owners will have to pay fees, but it’s unclear how much… There will be a series of public hearings to determine the necessary changes that will need to be made to keep the floating homes, as well as determining how much fees will cost.

Unfinished congressional business: Fred Thompson courthouse, TVA board, TN judge

Congress left behind a lot of unfinished business when it adjourned last week, including several bills dealing with Tennessee matters, reports Michael Collins.

–A bill naming the new $194 million federal courthouse in Nashville after the late Sen. Fred Thompson, passed the House Nov. 29.  But a prolonged fight in the Senate over health benefits for retired coal miners slowed most other business to a halt in the closing days of Congress. As a result, the Senate went home without ever taking a vote on the Nashville courthouse bill.

The offices of Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville, who led the push to get the courthouse named after Thompson, said last week they expect to refile the legislation next year. This time, the Senate is likely to go along.

–President Barack Obama had ren-nominated three members of the TVA Board of Directors– Joe Ritch of Huntsville, Ala., Peter Mahurin of Bowling Green, Ky., and Mike McWherter of Jackson, Tenn. – back in July. The Senate, however, never got around to confirming them.

Their nominations expire at the end of the year. Obama could submit their names again in the new year, but there’s little chance they would be confirmed before President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20. More than likely, it will be Trump who will fill the board seats.

Edward Stanton III, the U.S. attorney in the state’s Western District, was nominated by Obama for a U.S. District Court judgeship more than a year and a half ago but was never given a confirmation vote in the Senate (though supported by Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker)….

–Legislation inspired by the 2015 terrorist attack at two military installations in Chattanooga sought to counter the propaganda that groups like ISIS use in the recruitment efforts. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, passed the House twice but was never taken up by the Senate.

Board lets stand TVA permits to take water from Memphis aquifer

After a daylong hearing Wednesday, the Shelby County Groundwater Quality Control Board upheld permits authorizing the Tennessee Valley Authority to tap the Memphis Sand aquifer for water to cool a Memphis power plant, reports the Commercial Appeal.

By a 7-0 vote, the board denied an appeal by the Sierra Club of the Health Department’s decision to grant the final two of five well permits sought by TVA.

Environmentalists had warned during the hearing Wednesday that the planned use of Memphis Sand aquifer water to cool a power plant could endanger public drinking supplies, while local officials defended their approval of wells for the facility.

The hearing centered on the Sierra Club’s appeal of county permits authorizing two of five wells sought by the TVA for its $975 million Allen Combined Cycle Plant under construction in Southwest Memphis. TVA plans to pump some 3.5 million gallons of water daily to cool the natural gas-fired plant, which will be a cleaner-burning alternative to the nearby coal-fired Allen Fossil Plant slated for retirement in 2018.

“We’ve had a plentiful water supply. However, there’s no guarantee that plentiful water supply will continue…,” said Webb Brewer, an attorney representing the Sierra Club.

“The new power plant will be a good thing from an ecological standpoint, but we do not need to waste water to operate that plant.”

But during his opening statement, Assistant County Attorney Carter Gray said the TVA wells met the requirements set by local regulations. Consequently, Health Department officials “were required” to issue permits for them, he said.

Regardless of Trump policies, TVA committed to cutting back on coal

President-elect Donald Trump may roll back carbon limits and other environmental regulations on electric utilities, but the Tennessee Valley Authority is still moving away from coal-fired power generation, reports the Times-Free Press.

The federal utility, which two decades ago derived more than two-thirds of its electricity from burning coal, expects to get less than a fourth of its power from coal next year and only 15 percent of its generation from coal a decade from now.

Trump has pledged to bring back the coal industry and limit what he says are costly regulations on coal mining and power generation, including the Clean Power Plan proposed by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency last year but delayed by a Supreme Court stay on its implementation.

TVA CEO Bill Johnson says the utility will continue moving toward meeting the carbon-reduction targets of the Clean Power Plan as it retires aging coal plants and replaces them with lower-carbon natural gas-fired power plants and more wind, solar and nuclear power.

“We have been following a path that is consistent with the direction of the Clean Power Plan, but we’ve been following it based on what’s the best for our customers, and they happen to line up,” Johnson told analysts and reporters on a recent conference call. “We really have been following the plan that says if we modernize the fleet as we diversify, what is the best economic and rate path to follow? And that’s really what we will continue to do in every decision we make.”

TVA has already shuttered 24 of the 59 coal-fired units the utility once operated, including all eight units at its Widows Creek Fossil plant and all five units at the Colbert Fossil plant, both in Alabama, and four units at the John Sevier plant near Rogersville, Tenn. TVA reached a settlement with environmental groups in the EPA five years ago.