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Tennessee Valley Authority
History of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
President Franklin Roosevelt needed innovative solutions if the New Deal was to lift the nation out of the depths of the Great Depression. And TVA was one of his most innovative ideas. Roosevelt envisioned TVA as a totally different kind of agency. He asked Congress to create a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise. On May 18, 1933, Congress passed the TVA Act (PDF file, 175 kb, requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).
Right from the start, TVA established a unique problem-solving approach to fulfilling its mission-integrated resource management. Each issue TVA facedwhether it was power production, navigation, flood control, malaria prevention, reforestation, or erosion controlwas studied in its broadest context. TVA weighed each issue in relation to the others.
From this beginning, TVA has held fast to its strategy of integrated solutions, even as the issues changed over the years.
During World War II, the United States needed aluminum to build bombs and airplanes, and aluminum plants required electricity. To provide power for such critical war industries, TVA engaged in one of the largest hydropower construction programs ever undertaken in the United States. Early in 1942, when the effort reached its peak, 12 hydroelectric projects and a steam plant were under construction at the same time, and design and construction employment reached a total of 28,000.
To become more competitive, TVA began improving efficiency and productivity while cutting costs. By the late 1980s, TVA had stopped the rise in power rates and paved the way for a period of rate stability that would last for the next decade.
Although TVA’s production costs were third-lowest among the nation’s 25 largest electric utilities in 1997, according to Electric Light & Power magazine, it continued to look for additional ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency. TVA began to align the cost of its power with future competitive rates, in accordance with its 10-year business plan. It also initiated a Business Transformation program to further reduce costs, and moved to more flexible contracts with its distributor customers to meet their needs in a competitive marketplace.
In 1998 TVA unveiled a new clean-air strategy to reduce the pollutants that cause ozone and smog. The initiative cut annual nitrogen oxide emissions from TVA’s coal-fired plants by approximately 170,000 tons a year. Modern equipment, representing an investment of $600 million, was added to help states and cities in the Tennessee Valley meet new, more stringent air-quality standards while providing greater flexibility for industrial and economic growth in the region. TVA has invested more than $3 billion in emissions-control equipment at its 11 coal-fired power plants since the mid-1970s.
In short, TVA continued to strengthen its position as an energy leader in price, reliability, efficiency, and environmental stewardship as it helped lead the utility industry into the 21st century.
More on TVA history
The New Deal Network Web site, at http://newdeal.feri.org, has a wealth of information about the early days of TVA.
NDNs partners and sponsors include the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia University, and IBM.
The site features photographs and textsincluding speeches, letters, and other historic documentsfrom the New Deal period. One of the primary links is TVA: Electricity For All. It includes information on the origins of TVA, the people who built the dams, the changes that electricity meant for Valley residents, and Lorena Hickoks Letters from the Field. (Hickok was a journalist who traveled through the Valley in June 1934 recording her impressions of area residents reactions to TVA for Harry Hopkins, one of President Roosevelts closest advisers, and Eleanor Roosevelt.)
For more information on TVAs history, contact Patricia Bernard Ezzell, TVA Historian, to her attention at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 865-632-1582. Read archived issues of the monthly TVA Heritage column here.
This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.