In honor of Black History Month, SACE is publishing a blog series highlighting the efforts of African American leaders that have played key roles in the energy sector. This is the first post of this series. To read other posts in this series, go here.
For the first time in its 83-year old history, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has an African-American woman leading its Board of Directors. It is also the first time someone from Memphis, which is home to TVA’s largest customer Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), has held the Board chair.
V. Lynn Evans was named as the new TVA Board Chair after the former TVA Board Chair, Joe Ritch, ended his term on January 3, 2017. In these polarizing times, we celebrate the fact that one of our largest utilities in the Southeast has appointed a qualified leader like Ms. Evans – and broken with history by appointing a woman to Board chair for the first time. As one local Memphis publication put it – Ms. Evans is “a ‘first’ on three fronts.”
Ms. Evans first joined the TVA board in January 2013 and previously served as the Chair of TVA’s Audit, Risk and Regulation Committee, as well as serving on the Nuclear Oversight, People and Performance and External Relations committees. An accountant by trade, Ms. Evans has owned and operated her own certified public accounting and consulting firm, V. Lynn Evans, CPA, since 1983. No stranger to engagement on utility issues, Ms. Evans has served on the MLGW Board of Commissioners, including as that Board’s Chair from 2008-2009.
In an interview with Memphis’ The New Tri-State Defender, Ms. Evans pointed out the role race relations and equality played at the very beginning of TVA’s operations, back in 1933. TVA is technically a federal corporation – a government entity that is operated like a corporation – originally focused on providing low-cost energy via flood control and hydroelectric dams, among other initiatives. TVA also served as an important job creator in a Southern economy that was still reeling from the Great Depression.
“The thing that was very path finding in that time was that they wanted to insure that all workers who helped create the initial system were created equally regardless of race and regardless of ethnic background,” Evans said. “That was not an easy decision to make in the mid-30s.”
TVA Directors are appointed by the President with consent of the U.S Senate. Ms. Evans was appointed by President Barack Obama – her current term expires on May 18, 2017. We will have to wait to see if our new President will reappoint Ms. Evans after her term expires. It is common for TVA Directors to remain serving on the board after their official term expires, ultimately stepping down from the board when the concurrent session of Congress expires.
At the start of her historic term, Ms. Evans has already expressed the hope that TVA will remain on its current trajectory, outlined in its most recent Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). SACE staff were heavily involved in the formation of the 2015 IRP and encourage TVA staff to update cost and performance assumptions that better reflect the declining costs and improved performance of current, as well as future, renewable energy generation resources as well as the increasing cost and volatility of fossil fuel generation resources.
TVA is poised to further reduce its coal footprint, retiring Units 1 and 2 at its Paradise plant in Kentucky as well as all three units at the Allen plant, located in Ms. Evans’ home of Memphis. To date, however, TVA has decided to fill in a significant piece of the gap left by retiring coal units with natural gas, rather than significant investments in solar or wind, like Clean Line’s Plains and Eastern project. TVA is also in the process of pushing through dangerous closure plans for many of its coal ash impoundments that are based on faulty and incomplete environmental impact analysis.
SACE remains hopeful that Ms. Evans’ historic appointment as TVA Chair will precipitate a historic shift towards development of more clean energy resources in the Tennessee Valley.