The Tennessee Valley Authority: Design and Persuasion

TVA book coverTim Culvahouse, Editor

TVA undoubtedly conjures up, at best, mixed emotions in electric-utility veterans—a federal government entity created to solve a particular problem morphing into a bureaucratic behemoth, a source of employment and opportunity during a time of severe economic distress (the Great Depression) and now a calcified organization hell bent on integrated resource management. The Tennessee Valley Authority: Design and Persuasion is likely to reinforce your opinion rather than alter it.

Although it’s not a new book per se (2007), it has a long shelf life as a reflection on history, rather than commentary or analysis. For that reason, it could be a fine addition to your professional library.

Given that TVA recently brought online a gas-fired combined-cycle unit adjacent to one of its early flagship coal-fired plants, the CCJ community likely will be interested in a coffee-table book that captures the contradictions of TVA, in words and photographs, from the perspective of the communities and residents of the areas which were, take your pick, enhanced or devastated by TVA’s creation and growth.

Those serving in the electricity industry mostly “see” TVA as an anachronistic electric utility, not regulated by the state or governed by shareholders, but funded directly by Congress, one of only a few federal power authorities. The book, almost lyrical in its presentation, shows TVA in some ways as a dream of socialism and the power of the collective, and in other ways as a repressive force against community and individual rights and values.

The history revealed is important. The electric-power industry has changed dramatically over the more than eight decades since TVA was formed. The John Sevier Combined Cycle Plant is the most recent part of the TVA story. This book reminds us of how all of this came to be.

Government’s latest (continuing) position on TVA

The Obama Administration announced in the President’s budget for FY2014 its intentions to undertake a strategic review of options for addressing TVA’s financial situation. Since that announcement, government says “The agency has taken significant steps to improve its operating and financial performance and has committed to resolve its capital financing constraints.”

Further, the Obama “Administration supports TVA’s ongoing initiatives and will continue to monitor TVA’s performance, including the achievement of critical milestones contemplated in TVA’s long-term financial plan and the pursuit of efforts to enhance governance and increase transparency of TVA’s decision-making on important agency actions.”

While the strategic review of TVA has concluded, the President’s budget statement says, the Obama Administration continues to believe that reducing or eliminating the government’s role in programs such as TVA, which have achieved their original objectives, can help mitigate risk to taxpayers.

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