Tate: TVA stays focused on original mission

 Following her talk Thursday, Amy Tate and her husband, Kevin, talk to West Point Rotarian Tim Fowler, the assistant superintendent for operations for the West Point Consolidated School District.
Staff Writer

Eighty-five years after its founding, the Tennessee Valley Authority still follows the early words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president who created the utility giant during the Depression, who called it a "means to a greater end" designed to "change and improve the standards of living for people."

That's evident evident today, from little things like the investment the utility is making in the electric grid serving West Point to encourage economic development and jobs through some of the nation's lowest power rates.

"The TVA is here to make life better," Amy Tate, the utility's manager of government relations in its Tupelo office, told the West Point Rotary Club Thursday.

Since its founding in 1933, the TVA now serves nine million people through 154 local power distributors in nine states. In Mississippi, it covers 36 counties and 350,000 households.

North Mississippi has a number of firsts, including Tupelo as the first TVA city, Alcorn County as the first rural electric cooperative, and the first utility pole in Pontotoc.

As recently as five or six years ago, the utility drew criticism on several fronts, from high rates to environmental stewardship. But that has changed and continues to change, Tate told the group, of which her husband, Kevin, is a member.

For instance, electric rates today are 2 percent lower than in 2013. That's been achieved through $800 million in reduced spending, $2 billion in targeted capital improvements to better efficiency, $200 million in reduced debt, and increased emphasis on conservation.

The utility's industrial rates are the lowest among its peers in the Southeast  and residential rates are falling compared to some competitors, although "that might be hard to tell from your last electric bill," she joked, referring to high bills produced by record-low temperatures in early January.

Last year, nuclear power was the largest producer of electricity while coal was second. Under current plans, the utility plans to reduce its reliance on coal, increase electricity produced from gas, hydro and other sources, including solar such as the solar farms at Ole Miss and Mississippi State. It hopes to stop purchasing power from other utilities completely.

In the last decade, the utility's emphasis on economic development has paid off, especially in the Golden Triangle, which boasts three of the utility's eight approved megasites.

Steel Dynamics is on one in Lowndes County and Yokohama is on one in Clay County. The Infinity megasite west of Golden Triangle Regional Airport is being market heavily.

To insure the region remains prepared, the utility is in the midst of $80 million in upgrades.

"We want to make sure the lights never go out and that we are prepared to serve the future demands," Tate said.

That preparedness is paying off in other areas, too, including the $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda plant recently announced for a TVA-certified megasite in Huntsville, Ala.

And even with bad news comes good news.

The utility shut down the Widows Creek coal fired electric generating plant in northeast Alabama in late 2015 but now Google plans to repurpose the site into a data-processing center, Tate said.

The TVA has a planned power outage in West Point at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday as part of improvements to the city's main substation. The outage should last no more than 10 minutes.