Mark Yates Op-Ed: TVA’s Service During Recent Winter Weather Speaks for Itself

Mark Yates is the West Region Vice President for the Tennessee Valley Authority. This text originally appeared in The Daily Memphian.

I’d like to share information in response to a recent opinion piece submitted to The Daily Memphian offering thoughts about why Memphis avoided power blackouts that plagued other parts of the country in February.

The piece begins with a “bottom line” statement that Tennessee did not receive the brunt of the severe weather. Here are the facts:

Tennessee was not “insulated” from cold weather. Temperatures in Memphis were similar to parts of Arkansas and Texas. For example, the low temperature in the North Texas region on Tuesday, Feb. 16 was approximately -1 degree while Memphis was 1 degree above zero. And, in Nashville, the low temperature was 11 degrees while Houston was 13 degrees.

What was significantly different was the safe, reliable power delivery to Memphians that avoided rolling blackouts that crippled other areas of the country. The opinion piece claimed other providers were just as reliable as TVA. However, we think our service during the recent winter weather speaks for itself.

Severe weather requires preparation, planning, and resources. TVA and its partner, MLGW, plan for events like last month.

TVA has invested billions of dollars in our generation and transmission assets in the last decade. We can call on any and all of these resources at any time.

Because of our diverse, adaptable generation portfolio and our active management of the generation system, our delivery to MLGW was 100% reliable in February, and it has been that way for the last 20 years.

Our assets are “winterized” to withstand extreme cold temperatures. As an extra precaution, we also increased our margin of available reserve power from 20% to 26%.

Chip Estes, a Mississippi-based energy consultant who has worked for MISO and Entergy, said the extreme cold that descended on the Midwest and South exposed weaknesses in the utility systems that serve Texas and Arkansas, in particular. 

”Without a doubt, it has highlighted the challenges that MISO has in keeping the lights on in the South,” Estes said. “Entergy has a long way to catch-up, and they’re trying, to [catch-up] to the standards of assets in TVA and Southern Co.” 

The letter also uses isolated examples of natural disasters like the Alabama tornadoes in 2011 to bolster the case for leaving TVA. It’s hard to imagine a more “apples to oranges” comparison. A severe weather event is hardly the same as delivery failure of an entire power grid.

Because of its preparation and planning, TVA was able to begin restoring power to customers within a day of the tornadoes by rerouting the flow of electricity around the damaged lines. That is, in fact, an example of the resiliency of the TVA grid.

TVA’s power system isn’t perfect. We did have one weather-related outage due to the winter storm in February – in Bowling Green, Kentucky. That was one outage on 16,300 miles of transmission lines, because of an equipment failure, and it was restored in 45 minutes. Again, that’s hardly the same as six days of rolling blackouts in Texas and Arkansas when generation failed.

Since TVA’s focus is on the communities and people we serve, not the market, we also turned off a generation asset in Memphis that required water for operation without interrupting delivery. In addition, TVA has donated more than 160,000 bottles of water to MLGW and community groups during the boil alert period.

At TVA, we believe actions speak louder than words. Certainly, our actions and the positive impact outweigh the words spoken by others.

While others are pointing to studies and empty promises, TVA stands on our proof-of-performance. Actions, service and proven reliability are what matters to the people we serve.