By Craven Crowell
By Craven Crowell
Development and the Commitment of Public Power
by Craven Crowell, Chairman
Tennessee Valley Authority
At the National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America
May 4, 1999 -- Detroit, Michigan
and gentlemen, honored guests, good morning. It's a pleasure to be here
at the National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America, and it's a pleasure
to have the opportunity to address several issues that are vitally important
in any discussion about America's sustainable future.
I'd like to thank the President for starting these National Town Meetings.
I would also like to thank Vice President Gore. As fellow Tennesseans,
we are proud of his leadership and his accomplishments, particularly his
work on the environment.
It is an honor to have him with us today. I'm here representing the Tennessee
Valley Authority. TVA, as many of you know, is America's largest public
But providing electric power is only part of the TVA story. The bulk of
TVA's historical mission is directly tied to sustainable development.
Our commitment to the land, the environment, to putting back as much as
we take out, is as old as the TVA Act itself, which was passed in 1933.
Most any student of American history associates TVA with Franklin Roosevelt.
TVA was indeed part of the New Deal, born out of the Great Depression.
In the early thirties, our nation was fighting a desperate battle against
poverty and hunger, both in the cities and rural areas and dust bowls
President Roosevelt and the architects of the New Deal created the Tennessee
Valley Authority to employ thousands of workers in the construction of
dams on the Tennessee River and its tributaries. They wanted to put people
to work taming the rivers, reclaiming the land and, of course, generating
electric power, so that people in rural Appalachia might enjoy the full
benefits of 20th Century American life. But the philosophical underpinnings
of TVA began not with Franklin Roosevelt, but with the other Roosevelt,
his cousin, Teddy.
Under Teddy Roosevelt, the chief forester of the United States was Gifford
Pinchot. Pinchot espoused the principle that the management of natural
resources should be done for the "greatest good of the greatest number
in the long run." He had developed this idea when he returned to
America after studying in France.
He came back to America in the "Gilded Age"--- an age not unlike
our own time. When he got home, in 1890, he observed that "the nation
was obsessed by a fury of development, intent on appropriating and exploiting
the riches" of the continent. Appointed chief forester by Teddy Roosevelt,
he began to see the nation's forests not as individual things--trees,
streams, wildlife, minerals, but as a single unit, each dependent upon
the other--a seamless web.
David Lilienthal, one of TVA's first directors and chairmen, brought the
concept of the seamless web to TVA and the Tennessee River. Lilienthal
saw the river in its entirety -- as an enormous watershed stretching across
the boundaries of seven states. If properly utilized, this watershed could
provide many benefits to many people for a very long time.
Consequently, TVA's mission has never been solely to provide electric
power, but also to manage the river for flood control, commercial navigation,
recreation, water and wildlife. That was TVA's mission then. It is TVA's
So, TVA was not created principally to provide electric power to the Appalachian
farmers who lived in the remote hills of the Tennessee. TVA was created
to provide for the sustained, integrated development of major natural
resource--the Tennessee River system, and that's exactly what it did.
Farmers needed to learn new methods of soil conservation so they could
restore fertility to their barren farmland.
Agricultural experts from TVA taught them. The rivers, prone to flooding
and hazardous to navigate, needed to be tamed so they could serve the
people who lived in their valleys. Engineers from TVA tamed the rivers.
TVA trained tens of thousands of farmers and sharecroppers, and gave them
new skills. Together, they built huge hydroelectric dams and sent electric
power lines into parts of America that had never seen an electric light
or used an electric appliance. Much later, when electricity had become
a part of everyday life, experts from TVA helped teach energy conservation
to the consumers of the power TVA produced.
Think about that. Before energy conservation became fashionable, TVA was
teaching people how to use less of what we make -- not exactly part of
a standard commercial business plan, but part of what we see as our public
responsibility. Back in the '30s, TVA served the public good in thousands
of ways and, most people would agree, helped break the stranglehold of
the Great Depression.
I like to think that TVA played a significant part in creating the modern
economy of the Southeast and the prosperity we've enjoyed in the second
half of this century. But TVA also served the public good in another way,
that is especially relevant to the issues we're discussing here today.
TVA transformed the lives of the people of the Tennessee Valley.
But even more importantly, it has worked to protect the Valley's resources
for the benefit of generations to come. While I give credit for TVA's
commitment to sustainable development to our visionary founders and our
capable leaders, in all fairness, I think a big part of TVA's enlightened
approach has come from the simple fact that we live where we work. The
power customers we serve aren't some anonymous names on a bill.
They are our neighbors, our families. In the current vernacular, TVA is
a "place-based enterprise," which means we literally live with
the consequences of everything we do. Now, some people say industry deregulation
could change all that.
In the future, they say, electricity will be moved around the grid according
to pure market principles. Demand will be met by available supply, and
those who can pay will be those who get served. Power generated in one
state will be sold to customers in another, with little regard to local
concerns about sustainable development and the natural environment.
But I think we can -- and must -- do better than that. As we write the
laws that deregulate the electric power industry, we must work hard to
keep the best of our community values, for the sake of our environment,
and for the sake of generations to come. Electricity isn't a virtual enterprise
--- generating electric power has costs that go well beyond the bottom
While some means of generating power are cleaner than others, we must
be honest and admit that no one has yet invented a way to make electricity
that is totally "green." Someone, somewhere, is always bearing
the environmental burden of electricity production. At TVA, our place-based
values have pushed us to find new and cleaner ways to generate electric
Remember, we're working in our own back yard. So if we carelessly pollute
our environment to produce power, we suffer the consequences in the air
we breathe, and the water we drink. Over the years, we've devoted considerable
time and resources to research on more efficient, "greener"
As public power, we see this as our responsibility to the people we serve
. . . our communities, and our neighbors. But we've decided that these
investments -- though considerable -- aren't enough. So I'm proud that
we just last week announced the creation of a new entity, that we're calling
the Public Power Institute.
The Public Power Institute will fund research that will help us find new
ways to increase the energy supply as we increase the efficiency of energy
production, and the Institute will sponsor environmental research that
will help us produce cleaner, more environmentally friendly electric power.
We have committed up to $5 million over the course of the next three years
for this project. We believe that's a serious investment, and we believe
it will be money well spent.
For starters, we're going to ask the Public Power Institute to help us
examine TVA's current energy production facilities, so we can make power
plants already on-line run cleaner and more efficiently, and we're also
going to ask the Institute to help us find ways to integrate the emerging
renewable energy sources and other sustainable technologies into the TVA
In addition to nuts and bolts research, we think the Institute can also
perform a "think tank" function for public power companies nationwide.
As the deregulation debate gains momentum, we hope the Institute can take
the lead in representing the unique contributions of public power to the
The Public Power Institute is very much a "work in progress"
. . . and, frankly, that's how we hope it stays. We would like to see
it grow and evolve with the changing needs of our customers. In the end,
we hope the Institute will stand as a symbol of the vision that public
power companies like TVA bring to the energy industry.
It's a vision that puts the public good ahead of the bottom line, and
a vision that values long-term benefits over short-term gains. The public
power vision is, I believe, consistent with the goals and principles of
the sustainable development movement we are discussing in this historic
town meeting. Conservation and the careful management of our natural resources
should never go out of fashion, and we've made this the guiding principle
of the Public Power Institute.
TVA, and public power, are setting a standard for public service. That
means service to our customers and service to our communities -- even
as we set new standards for sustainable development, because it's our
belief that electric utilities must do more than just generate inexpensive
We must also serve the public good. TVA has a 66-year history of public
service that we're enormously proud of, and we hope to serve as a benchmark
for public responsibility in the new, deregulated marketplace of the future.
On behalf of TVA, I look forward to working with all of you in supporting
and promoting the principles and values of sustainable development.
is Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority
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