Tennessee Valley Authority

5 10 2010

A construction contractor works on the Douglas Dam in Sevier County, Tennessee in 1942.


If you haven’t noticed, we’re trying here to introduce ourselves (and by default, you, our dear readers and friends) to a little more history. 

So, today’s history lesson, boys and girls, is on the Tennessee Valley Authority. Now regardless of your political feelings about the TVA, if you live in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, or Virginia, you’re probably familiar with the TVA, and the role it plays in your life. 

The Tennessee Valley Authority was signed into law by the TVA Act of 1933 on May 18 by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. The Tennessee Valley area had been greatly affected by the Depression, and President Roosevelt gave the TVA long-term contracts to provide power to the area as part of his New Deal, in hopes to alleviate some of the flooding by providing dams, and therefore, providing jobs to local residents to build those dams and teach farmers how to better irrigate their land, yielding a better crop. 

It was begun in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in the heart of the deep South. The TVA is the nation’s largest public power company, servicing 9 million customers and providing hydroelectric power to other plants in the area who harvest fossil fuels, nuclear power, combustion turbines, wind, and solar energy. 

But the TVA didn’t come without controversy. At its inception, it displaced 15,000 families living in the Tennessee Valley area, contributing to great distrust of the government’s hand in “solving” the problem. Ronald Reagan received attention in the 1960’s when he publicly criticized the government for its short-sightedness with concerns to forming the TVA. He preferred the problem solved by privately-owned power companies, rather than resorting to spending tax dollars and turning them over to the “big government.” Reagan opposed the TVA saying, ” They said that it was possible that once in 500 years there could be a total capacity flood that would inundate some 600,000 acres. Well, the engineers fixed that. They made a permanent lake which inundated a million acres. This solved the problem of floods, but the annual interest on the TVA debt is five times as great as the annual flood damage they sought to correct. Of course, you will point out that TVA gets electric power from the impounded waters, and this is true, but today 85 percent of TVA’s electricity is generated in coal burning steam plants. Now perhaps you’ll charge that I’m overlooking the navigable waterway that was created, providing cheap barge traffic, but the bulk of the freight barged on that waterway is coal being shipped to the TVA steam plants, and the cost of maintaining that channel each year would pay for shipping all of the coal by rail, and there would be money left over.” 

The TVA is a perfect example of the fine balance between government and privatization. But nevertheless, the Tennessee Valley Authority is a large part of many Southerners lives.




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