Four months after his dismissal as CEO of Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility, Bill Johnson is employed again, this time as the chief executive of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest government utility.
TVA officials made the announcement Monday, with Johnson, a Raleigh resident for nearly three decades, expressing eagerness about his impending move to Knoxville. Johnson, 58, officially begins his new job Jan. 1, overseeing a federally created nonprofit with 9 million electricity customers and 12,000 employees in parts of seven states, including North Carolina.
He could be paid as much as $4 million a year. His base salary will be $950,000, and he is eligible for up to $3 million in performance bonuses. Johnson left Duke with up to $44.7 million in severance, pension, and other benefits.
Johnson will replace TVA CEO Tom Kilgore, who once was Johnson’s boss at Raleigh-based Progress Energy. TVA’s announcement about hiring Johnson made no mention of his brief tenure at Duke, saying only that he was instrumental in getting the merger done with Charlotte-based Duke.
But it was almost impossible to hear Johnson’s acceptance speech in Knoxville except through the lens of his abrupt dismissal from Duke.
“Integrity is important, perhaps the most important,” Johnson said of his leadership values. “Openness, transparency – good old-fashioned honesty.”
He briefly addressed reporters’ questions about his July 2 firing from Duke, saying Duke did not want him as chief executive and had a legal right to remove him.
Johnson, a one-time Penn State offensive lineman and corporate lawyer, joined Raleigh’s Carolina Power & Light in 1992. The utility was later renamed Progress Energy, and Johnson ascended rapidly toward the executive suite.
In hearings before the N.C. Utilities Commission this summer, Johnson and Duke Energy board members reconstructed in detail how Duke’s board of directors voted to fire Johnson almost immediately after the Charlotte-based power company completed its $32 billion merger with Progress. In the hearings, Duke Energy officials characterized Johnson as autocratic and ill-suited for leadership at Duke, citing deteriorating nuclear plant performance at Progress under Johnson’s five-year tenure.
Johnson’s dismissal stunned employees, shareholders and public officials, triggering a pair of ongoing investigations by the N.C. Utilities Commission and the N.C. Attorney General. The investigations are seeking to determine whether Duke deliberately misled regulators and others about its CEO strategy.
TVA, in addition supplying electricity to part of western North Carolina, has also battled the state in the legal arena over pollution its coal-burning plants belch across state lines.
Last year, TVA settled a legal challenge from the N.C. Attorney General, agreeing to reduce emissions that damage North Carolina’s air quality. TVA agreed to pay $11.2 million to North Carolina, retire at least 18 of its 59 coal-burning units and retrofit other coal burners with pollution controls.
TVA, formed in 1933, sells power to North Carolina households and businesses in Avery, Burke, Cherokee, Clay, McDowell and Watauga counties.
TVA also sells power to a municipal utility and three rural electric cooperatives in the western part of the state. Additionally, TVA operates four hydroelectric dams in the state.