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Sustainable Development and the Commitment of Public Power

Remarks by Craven Crowell, Chairman
Tennessee Valley Authority
At the National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America
May 4, 1999 -- Detroit, Michigan

 

Ladies 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 power producer.

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 and floods.

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 mission today.

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 line.

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 power.

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" energy technologies.

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 production pipeline.
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 energy marketplace.

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 electric power.

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.
.

Craven Crowell is Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority

 

 

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