Johnson at the TVA

November 5, 2012 

The Tennessee Valley Authority is important in the Southeast’s energy picture, operating in seven states. However, except for about 33,000 households out west, it’s not a big factor in North Carolina – with the significant exception of impressive hydroelectric projects such as Fontana Dam. Only about 6 percent of the TVA’s service territory is in North Carolina.

Yet there’s long been a significant connection. The TVA is largely a coal-burning utility. Air pollution generated by its power stations drifts east on the prevailing winds, over the Appalachians and into North Carolina. That fact was at the heart of a successful lawsuit, brought by the state, that pushed the TVA to clean up its act.

Now, with the announcement that Bill Johnson of Raleigh, until recently CEO of Progress Energy, will head the TVA, the state has another tie to the federal agency. Here’s hoping it works out well for both parties.

Johnson, 58, kept a fairly low profile at Progress Energy, until last year. Then, with the announcement that Progress would, in effect, be bought by Charlotte-based Duke Energy, came word that he, rather than the higher-profile Jim Rogers of Duke, would be CEO of the combined utility.

If that was surprising, it was nothing compared to the near-shocking news that, an eye blink after the merger was finally sealed this summer, Johnson was out on his ear (albeit with handsome compensation) – ousted by the Duke board of directors.

That move touched off charges and countercharges, and Utilities Commission hearings. The commission hasn’t reached a final resolution, and now Johnson is departing for Knoxville.

There he’ll head another huge utility, a job he seems qualified to tackle. At Progress, seeing the writing on the wall, Johnson moved to lessen dependence on older coal-fired plants. At the TVA he’ll have many opportunities to lead in the same direction. For the sake of the air here and there, he should.

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