TVA marks 80 years in the Tennessee Valley

TVA marks 80 years in the Tennessee Valley

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"TVA has a strong commitment to the environment and always has historically, said TVA historian Pat Ezzell. "TVA has a strong commitment to the environment and always has historically, said TVA historian Pat Ezzell.
Eight decades later, the utility has 29 hydroelectric dams. Eight decades later, the utility has 29 hydroelectric dams.
President John F. Kennedy spoke in Muscle Shoals, Alabama on the utility's 30th anniversary. President John F. Kennedy spoke in Muscle Shoals, Alabama on the utility's 30th anniversary.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - TVA is marking a milestone--80 years in the valley.

It all started with FDR's signature in 1933. 

Over the years technology has changed and the utility has faced controversy. But, there's no question looking back that TVA changed the face of the Tennessee Valley forever improving the lives of millions.

Extreme poverty gripped our nation during the great depression.  It may be hard to imagine, but it was even worse for the people of the Tennessee Valley.

"This part of the country lagged behind in almost every indicator health, school, jobs, our resources were depleted and most people lived out in the rural areas and most people didn't have electricity," said TVA historian Pat Ezzell.

There was yet another challenge flooding.  Every year the waters rose washing away the valuable topsoil many farmers in our area needed. Ezzell says then came an "out there" kind of idea.

"The time was right to try something really experimental for the time. The concept was that we would come in through the concept of integrated resource management, which is you don't look at one isolated problem like flooding you look at the region as a whole," said Ezzell.

It took several tries in Congress, but finally the TVA bill made it to President Franklin Roosevelt's desk.  He signed it into law on May 18th, 1933. 

Work began almost immediately on TVA's first major project--the building of the Norris Dam.  Ezzell says it was a boon for jobs.

"If you can imagine, this was just a beehive of activity."

The dam--roughly 24 stories high--stretches just over five football fields across the Clinch River.  It was completed in just three short years.  Eight decades later, the utility has 29 hydroelectric dams.

But, TVA's projects were not without controversy.  Some families were forced to give up their land, but Ezzell says many more did so willingly.

"It's a tribute to the people here that they were willing to sacrifice to make a better region."

As time passed, the need grew for more power especially in a post World War II America.  That gave way to the nuclear era. 

"As more growth came to the valley of course TVA has always been a technological innovator a lot of great things," said Ezzell.  Now, TVA counts four nuclear power plants in the valley, which produce about 30% of the utility's power supply.

Just as each generation of Americans has faced a challenge, so too have the workers of TVA.  In the early morning hours of December 22nd, 2008, the north dike of the Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed, spewing an estimated five-point-four million cubic yards of ash and sludge into nearby homes, farmland and the Emory River. 

While cleanup continues, Ezzell points to TVA's past.  "TVA has a strong commitment to the environment and always has historically."

For Ezzell, times have changed, but TVA's mission has remained the same.  President John F. Kennedy spoke in Muscle Shoals, Alabama on the utility's 30th anniversary. 

He told the crowd of 15-thousand workers the initials T-V-A stand for progress.  Ezzell says "I love that quote because I think you can say in 2013, 80 years after TVA was created, I still think that TVA, those initials, stand for progress."

And, what does the future hold for TVA?  President Obama recently suggested in his budget that selling all or part of TVA would help reduce the U.S. deficit long-term.  TVA officials have met with White House budget officials.  It was said to be the first of several meetings.  TVA's chief financial officer said the review of TVA's future could take up to a year. 

Meanwhile, the utility plans to bring a second reactor online at the watts bar nuclear power plant in the coming years.  TVA is also partnering with Babcock and Wilcox to develop new small modular reactor technology.

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