The Tennessee Valley Authority is a federally owned electricity corporation. An act of Congress established the company in 1933 to help the Tennessee Valley overcome environmental and economic problems. Now TVA provides power for the entire state of Tennessee and parts of six bordering states. The corporation also provides flood control, navigation and management for the Tennessee River System. The company has a diverse power plant portfolio that includes nuclear, fossil, diesel, hydroelectric, natural gas, solar and wind energy. The corporation funds its own operations by the sale of its electricity to power distributors. Wochit

about 30 percent of customers’ rates fund that budget.

The Mercedes Benz-style helicopter, formerly used by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, has hardwood paneling and is featured on “The Billionaire Shop” alongside speedboats, Ducati motorcycles and high-end New York properties. 

Hopson said TVA operates helicopters for transmission line inspection and maintenance as well as “economic development activities,” to which the utility credits the addition of 330,000 jobs to the Tennessee Valley. The new helicopter will be used for that purpose, thanks to its large interior. 

Mike Skaggs, TVA’s executive vice president for operations, said the utility uses the jet to show large potential customers the TVA service area and what is around the areas they are considering setting up shop in. 

Skaggs said the company recently flew Toyota Mazda representatives to the site of the plant they will build in Huntsville, Alabama. 

The utility also purchased two new Cessna Citation Excel aircraft, trading out its previous turbo-prop aircraft, which the National Transportation Safety Board said were not as safe as the jets. 

The helicopter costs about $1200 per hour to operate, and the jets each cost about $1500 per hour to operate, according to Skaggs.

Hopson said most of the places the jets visit do not have commercial air service, so flying from McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville is not an option. 

“They are in the Southeast region. They can get in an automobile like a lot of people do when they want to travel to the next state,” said Debbie Dooley, Tea Party Co-Founder and President of Conservatives for Energy Freedom. “It sets a bad example, especially when you’re asking more money of your customers.”

TVA rates, executive compensation called out

Smith blasted TVA for the lavish purchases and high executive compensation packages while the utility’s rate increases negatively impact Tennessee Valley residents.

Knoxville Utility Board records show the portion of customer rates paid to TVA has nearly doubled since 1997, contributing to an 80 percent increase in KUB customers bills. 

Energy surveys estimate some Memphians pay between 13 and 25 percent of their annual income to keep the lights on. The city has the largest energy burden in the United States. 

“When people’s rates are being impacted the way they are and people are struggling to pay their power bills and these guys are living the lifestyles of the rich and famous, how can they justify it? ” Smith said. 

CEO Bill Johnson’s, the highest-paid federal employee in the country, has a $6.5 million compensation package, which the utility has said is below-median pay for comparable CEO’s in the utility industry. 

TVA’s private utility peers have have comparable aircraft fleets. 

But, Smith said, a public utility should be more frugal with ratepayers’ dollars.

“You don’t need a Mercedes Benz helicopter for economic stimulus,” Smith said. “You don’t have to have six zeroes after your salary in order to be a competent leader. There used to be a time when being the head of TVA was about public service and bringing a sense of commitment to the region.”

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