The Tennessee Valley Authority announced Thursday a $200 million COVID-19 pandemic relief package for local power providers that includes a 2.5% discount on its base electric rates.
Local power providers will decide how to use the base rate credit, which could include lowering customer rates and limiting utility cutoffs for customers hurt by the ongoing pandemic.
“TVA’s team has just been doing an excellent job at constantly looking at ways to lower costs and improve reliability and they are poised to deliver a tremendous performance year in fiscal 2020 despite the challenges presented by COVID-19,” TVA Chief Executive Officer Jeff Lyash said.
The utility last year said it would try to keep its electric rates stable over the next decade and, this year, offered a 3.1% rebate to local power companies in return for signing long-term deals with TVA.
TVA, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, supplies electricity to businesses and local power companies. About 10 million people rely on the agency across parts of seven Southeast states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.
TVA locking in utility deals, labor deals
TVA has been working to lock local power providers into long-term deals to buy electricity from TVA.
“The bedrock of this public power system is the long-term partnership between TVA and local power companies,” Lyash said at TVA’s Tuesday board
He said 141 local power companies have signed a 20-year agreement in the past year, representing 90% of the local power companies across the region and almost 90% of TVA’s annual revenue.
Some critics argue the move keeps local power providers from finding cheaper, cleaner energy sources.
Lyash also touted a new deal the utility has brokered with labor unions.
“Our partnerships with these unions go back decades,” Lyash said. “They are the backbone of TVA and our ability to serve the people of the Tennessee Valley.”
TVA and labor representatives for the agency’s craft employees reached a 10-year agreement.
“It will be the longest project agreement in the United States and another great step forward in our partnership with the trade unions,” he said.
TVA responds to Trump criticism
In early August, President Donald Trump blasted TVA management from the White House’s Cabinet Room for outsourcing technology jobs. He signed an executive order forbidding federal agencies from outsourcing jobs overseas, a direct result of TVA’s decision to send at least 120 information technology jobs to three software development contractors headquartered outside of the United States.
As he was signing the order, Trump fired two board members and pushed for the TVA board of directors to remove Lyash, saying he was grossly overpaid.
At the start of the TVA board meeting, interim board chairman John Ryder addressed Trump’s criticism of Lyash’s pay.
“It is important to highlight that questions about compensation do not reflect questions about Jeff Lyash’s performance,” Ryder said. “In his relatively short time at TVA, Jeff’s leadership has been instrumental in guiding the organization through very challenging circumstances and delivering performance improvements that we believe are in the best interest of the 10 million people TVA serves.”
Board member Kenny Allen announced at Thursday’s meeting that TVA will now conduct a review of executive pay, including the $8 million in Lyash’s annual compensation package, using newly-hired consulting firm FW Cook. The firm is based in New York.
“It’s the board’s responsibility to ensure that the right balance is struck as we seek to hire individuals who are capable of producing results that are in the best interest of the people and TVA’s service territory,” Allen said.
Lyash said at a briefing following Thursday’s meeting that he’s not worried about the review or the possibility of a pay cut.
“I’m good with this review,” Lyash said. “I’m in full support of it.”
Ryder, who was formally elected board chair Thursday, said TVA has briefed Trump’s staff on the executive pay review.
“We have reported that back to the White House,” Ryder said after the meeting. “Indications we have are that we are approaching this in the right way.”
TVA reverses on outsourcing jobs
Ryder and Lyash also recently met with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone about retaining IT jobs in the United States.
In response, TVA announced all previous layoffs have been rescinded and planned future layoffs have been canceled.
Ryder also addressed Trump’s comments on outsourcing jobs.
“First and foremost I want to be clear that the board and the TVA leadership clearly understand and totally support the administration’s direction on maintaining and growing American jobs,” Ryder said.
“However, in spite of that success we have come to realize that TVA was not itself setting an example during our IT restructuring,” he continued. “Simply put, we made mistakes and we immediately set out to make things right. All prior actions that impacted TVA’s IT workers have been rescinded.”
Critics keep the heat on over coal ash
The utility is under fire for its handling of toxic coal ash waste — a radioactive byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity — across the state. Massive arsenic contamination was discovered at its coal ash dumps in Memphis, and its dumps in Gallatin are contaminating public drinking water sources, records show.
After public pressure and legal action, TVA agreed to dig up those leaking dumps in Memphis and Gallatin and come up with a safer way to store the toxic waste, which contains radioactive heavy metals dangerous to breathe and ingest.
Some Anderson County residents are now demanding TVA dig up its coal ash from leaking dumps at its Bull Run Fossil Plant in the Claxton community and clean up contamination before it closes the plant in 2023. The utility has said it has not yet made a final decision on that.
Leaders in Roane County are suing TVA and Jacobs Engineering Inc., over the utility’s massive 2008 spill of 7.3 million tons of coal ash waste at its Kingston plant, alleging the utility and its cleanup contractor colluded to cover up the risks exposure to the toxic stuff posed citizens.
Hundreds of laborers who helped clean up the disaster — the nation’s largest spill of the toxic waste — are now suing Jacobs Engineering, alleging the firm misled them about the risks of exposure and failed to adequately protect them from it.
Since the spill, 50 cleanup workers have died, and hundreds are sick. They blame exposure to radioactive coal ash dust for those illnesses. TVA and Jacobs maintain they provided proper safety equipment and protocols for cleanup workers and insist there is no evidence the workers’ illnesses are tied to coal ash exposure.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: TVA gives $200 million COVID-19 pandemic relief package to local power providers