TVA chief Lyash gets more power from board
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Norris Dam in Anderson County (Photo: TVA website)
The TVA Board of Directors voted to give CEO Jeff Lyash authority over federal advisory committees and economic development contracts, causing concern among environmental groups.
On Thursday, the board of directors met the day after allowing public comment for the first time in two years, having cited COVID concerns as a reason to keep meetings closed to the public.
Board members voted to give Lyash authority to approve property acquisitions up to $50 million and capital project approvals not exceeding $200 million, an increase from $50 million for capital projects.
Lyash also gained the authority to develop, implement, administer and modify programs and incentives designed to foster economic growth and job creation within TVA’s service territory, as well as authority to approve and fill vacancies on federal regulatory oversight committees. TVA currently has two such federal advisory committees.
The TVA Board of Directors serves as the single and final authority on many TVA power activities and decisions, including those related to power planning, ratemaking, and public involvement.
The decision to give Lyash more power comes as environmentalists and TVA customers urge the agency to improve transparency and to fast track renewable-resource programs within Tennessee and nearby states in the TVA service territory.
At Wednesday’s public listening session, several speakers urged TVA officials to address climate change and reduce climate emissions, while others urged TVA to end their use of fossil fuel by retiring all coal plants, move entirely to renewable energy, use a new integrated resource plan and pursue environmental justice.
TVA officials said they plan on accomplishing net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but have seen an increase in power demands over the past year due to temperatures dropping.
In a 24-hour period from Jan. 2 to 3, TVA officials noted a 105% increase in power demand.
“For us, reducing energy burden over time is a priority at TVA”, said Lyash, noting that Tennesseans pay higher energy rates as average incomes being 30% lower than the national average.
“We should be keenly aware of [that ]even though TVA’s prices have some of the lowest rates in the country, our citizens suffer higher than average energy burdens,” said Lyash.
But within talks of moving to renewable resources, TVA officials are currently deciding whether to replace two coal plants with a gas or solar-powered facility, a decision that was delegated to Lyash in a November board meeting.
The move to boost Lyash’s power comes even as President Joe Biden seeks to appoint four environmental and labor-friendly members to serve on the TVA Board of Directors.
While the U.S. Senate needs to approve TVA board members, the CEO is not chosen by elected officials. Its CEO is chosen by the TVA board.
“It’s not just environmental groups, it’s anybody who cares about energy democracy, and making sure that the people have a say in where their power comes from, what the rates are and what kind of programs are being run,” said Amy Kelly, an organizer for the Sierra Club.
“The CEO is not appointed by any elected official and is hired, and this is a federal utility,” she added.
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