TVA- can anyone intimidate the federal government to silence?

October 30, 2015

It appears that Google has provided enough “hush money” (a promised warehouse costing $600 million) that those involved locally and apparently TVA have signed agreements to keep silent about the “easement” deal between Google and TVA for 350 acres of federal land on the Widows Creek site in Stevenson, Alabama.

Google’s acquisition process has followed a similar path in building data centers worldwide. And if Google prefers that approach in building their data centers, so be it; no quibble there. But there is a major concern about TVA, a federal agency, agreeing not to divulge the details of the transaction, if TVA signed or orally agreed to a lock-down on information.

Congress has passed legislation, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to keep federal agencies like TVA aware that federal information cannot be withheld when requested. That appears to be the case between TVA and Google; stonewalling is stonewalling in any event if TVA refuses to divulge the details of the deal. Serious consequences, for example, can result if RICO statutes apply. This is not to suggest that any of the parties involved in the “easement” deal between TVA and Google are suspected of carrying out illegal activities, but if Google has sworn a federal agency to secrecy when knowledge of those facts relate to millions of TVA ratepayers, the details of the “deal” must be shared.

TVA has an obligation to keep ratepayers, TVA’s main source of funding, informed and if TVA takes a dictatorial stance about it, well, there’s the FOIA (cough, cough) to try. A Tennessee newspaper tried that approach on another “deal” TVA worked but they were told that TVA’s refusal to release stood and that FOIA would back them up. The only alternative by the inquiring party was to sue, a long and costly venture.

Norsworthy Opinion

TVA – silence is golden?

October 25, 2015

Why is it that TVA makes one “curiouser and curiouser” the longer TVA’s side of the Google deal is kept secret? Sure, TVA is a federal agency and they manage to do what they want to do anyway, but remember, whatever TVA does is a direct charge to ratepayers; they have no choice as captives of a monopoly. Ratepayers deserve to be kept informed at the very least. After all, it’s their money TVA is committing or spending despite what TVA says. It’s true that Google swore everybody to secrecy in making the deal with TVA; maybe TVA doesn’t know when they can speak for fear of retribution from Google and it seems so from the others involved. Shut up! Or I’ll take back my $600 million warehouse! Is that what Google is implying?

Google has committed to build a $600 million warehouse on 350 acres of the closed Widows Creek coal-fired plant and “repurposing” it. That’s a key word from Google, just what does “repurposing” mean? The number of technicians to run the warehouse is probably fewer than 100 employees. There is no question about the impact of Google’s expansion on the community, state of Alabama and the region.

What’s in it for TVA is unclear and it will stay that way until TVA decides to talk. How much did Google pay, if anything, for the TVA “easement” peculiarity, a sales transaction? It must have been an impressive amount; hundreds of federal employees working on the deal, all sworn to secrecy. Can you imagine that many people keeping silent? Especially, feds?

Norsworthy Opinion

TVA – not important as a defense budget veto?

October 24, 2015

The president’s veto of a national defense bill partly because it goes around budgetary caps on defense spending should apply to TVA. TVA’s cap of $30 billion in borrowing is easily avoided by artfully ignoring a congressional mandate. This suggests the administration is picking and choosing mandates, especially those ideological programs. But this doesn’t let congress off the hook; just because TVA does not request appropriations, congress will have to pay “appropriations” in a big way after they have stopped “kicking the gnarled can down the road.” Ah yes, congress has forgotten its role of oversight.

With almost universal disdain, TVA has become the laughing stock of the nuclear industry, the whipping boy of how not to “run a railroad.” Warning, with the incompetence of government-run anything, how can the TVA or its predecessors maintain a safe nuclear environment forever when the hodge-podge of a nuclear reactor takes 40 years to complete? Mismanagement and its start-stop incompetence have shown the world how not to “build a better mouse trap” and if any other countries follow the U.S. model, they do so at their own peril. Speaking of TVA’s audacious “deal” with Google, TVA has gone completely bonkers.

Here’s what we know; TVA and its sound-alike private enterprise negotiations with Google in very secret emails, hundreds of them, (my, hundreds of federal employees worked so hard exchanging emails with Google while sworn to secrecy along with involved local representatives). It was all so hush, hush. But that’s not the catch; TVA actually disposed of federal property through a permanent “easement”, 350 acres of the Widows Creek site. TVA admitted this method of land disposal avoided those pesky rules governing federal land disposal. TVA has yet to disclose after over 4 months just exactly how much more TVA ratepayers have to ante up. Whatever the “deal” TVA made with Google, it has not been transparent at all. And the decision to go ahead with the agreement rested in the hands of part-time and appointed federal employees. State and local elected representatives were shut out of the decision-making process. In fact, the sovereignty of 7 states was completely ignored.

Clearly, TVA was way out of bounds; the legality of the “deal” has to be highly questioned as to TVA’s authority to make such a transaction. Where was the TVA Inspector General, the government’s watchdog, who should have advised of TVA’s shaky ground?

Still, the best solution in handling “deals” like that with Google is to let free enterprise do the competitive give and take; there should be no bargaining with the federal government. If for some reason there are errors made on TVA’s part by any of the hundreds of federal employees, you can bet that not a single federal employee will be fired, punished in any way, demoted or held liable; that’s the way the federal government works, not private enterprise.

All a sleuth has to do is to follow the money, the sizable sum of $10 billion a year. Oh yes, the flippancy of the way TVA handles the deadliest element on earth, nuclear, without finding a way to safely store the residue is criminal. Until a solution is found, all nuclear activity should cease immediately.

Norsworthy Opinion

TVA – still silent on Google deal after 4 months

October 21, 2015

After the party was over, so to speak, over the major location of one of Google’s data warehouses in Stevenson, Alabama, there was reason to celebrate about a $600 million investment. The little town of 2000 people with shock and awe is just beginning to realize their community will be drastically changed but will be forever grateful to Google. But that is not the issue here.

While the noise of the Google selection can be heard all over the world, one wonders how TVA got to this place. There has not been a murmur from TVA about the deal they concocted with Google. What were the concessions? How much did Google pay for their so-called easement? Should TVA be penalized for breaking a statutory rule of avoiding the bidding process of federal property?

The absence of answers to those questions and more from TVA indicate some kind of cover up. When added to the fact that after scouring the Internet and finding only two sites that were related directly to TVA’s deal with Google, it was to my dismay both sites had been taken down and were not available.

As recently as today (Oct. 21), TVA’s site revealed nothing about the deal between TVA and Google. Is this just another secret deal of incentives by TVA? Surely, TVA ratepayers want to know since they have to pay for all of TVA’s excursions.

Norsworthy Opinion

TVA – sick from too much green paint?

TVA – sick from too much green paint?

October 16, 2015

Want to hear a fairy tale? Once upon a time in Utopialand where everything is greener than green frogs, they were trying to raise a little money. They figured they’d sell a product but it would only seem to be one.

“This’ll do it!” cried a Utopian. We can just pretend we’re selling a product; we’ll sell it in blocks! It makes no matter that there really is no “product” but we can make it look that way. How about $4 per block? Don’t want to be too pricey. When they buy a block of imaginary stuff, (I know, I know, they think it’s real; it’s just a pig in a poke! Ha, ha! The jokes on you!)

Because we have other things going on here, we’ll have to account for every block of imagination we sell at $4 per imaginary “block.” We call it a “block” because it sounds so real; it can be paid sooo easily once a month as part of another bill. But wait! Money is fungible; one dollar cannot be told from another! I’m sorry, we’ll be needing some of those dollars for other than a “green” purpose, it’s just part of the mix; some of the money might be a different shade of green.

Do you think we can get away with calling the “blocks” a “product” when they are only imaginary? Remember what P.T. Barnum said? Oh, then it’s a go?

The moral of the tale is “what you see is a mirage but you don’t believe it is.”

Norsworthy Opinion

How much longer will TVA be allowed to compete with private industry? Where’s the outrage?’s

How much longer will TVA be allowed to compete with private industry? Where’s the outrage?

October 12, 2015

With great advantages over privately owned utilities. TVA has continued to “outlive its usefulness,” as the current Washington administration asserts. You can romance TVA’s history and glorify its past but that’s for the novel writers. The Site Selection magazine, September issue, has a Utopian tale of the struggles the federal government trying to woo Google through the diligence of 200 federal employees and thousands of e-mails, so they say. If this tale is not beginning to make your blood boil, it should.

Through extremely secret negotiations, Google warned the locals involved not to leak what Google had planned; TVA has yet to reveal the details of the deal between Google and TVA as if this was the normal thing to do. Google can follow its own lights but it is a different story with TVA, a federal agency. TVA has pulled this trick before but nothing approaching a $600,000 million project. TVA’s trick? Do not respond to inquiries they do not like; being competitive, you know.

In other deals TVA has made, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) doesn’t even work; FOIA has become another federal agency the Congress has ignored.

Some specific questions about this highly unusual deal between TVA and Google:

  • What did TVA grant in the “easement” of approximately 360 acres to Google?
  • Will TVA provide Google only renewable electricity?
  • Did TVA work out a special rate for Google?
  • How does TVA justify going around the specific laws which prohibit the sale or lease (or through “easement”) instead of using the bidding process?
  • The recent disposal of federal property in N. Alabama had such over lording of federal rules that it is unlikely much of it will be sold by the communities very quickly. Why is this land disposal so different from the Google deal?

TVA has nearly 300 acres of surplus property it has had in inventory for decades. Will TVA “fast track” these holdings like or similar to the Google transaction? Since this is federal property involved, what right does TVA have to take the proceeds of the sale of its assets for its own use? A sale means the proceeds belong to the American taxpayer (you and me as well as TVA ratepayers); it should be deposited in a U.S. Treasury account.

The problem here is that TVA is competing with private enterprise. It is wrong for the federal government to compete with taxpaying utilities that through legitimate competition and innovation drive the cost of electricity down. TVA, a monopoly, cannot even beat surrounding electricity suppliers. State PSC’s, at least, act as watchdogs for the public but they play no part in TVA’s central planning.

There have been many advocates for the dissolution of TVA even before President Eisenhower. Somehow, though, TVA has maintained its role as “the largest public provider of electricity” in the United States, not a proud achievement. And from my view, “how can so many be wrong?” It will be writ someday that TVA started as a disaster in 1933 and ended up deeply in debt as a jumble of a socialistic mix resembling private enterprise.

It is capitalism that made this a great nation, not growth in government; and it is projects like TVA that will turn this country into a capitulation nation unlike the principles laid down by our Founding Fathers over 200 years ago.

Norsworthy Opinion

TVA – lies, lies, lies!

TVA – lies, lies, lies!

October 7, 2015

Now that TVA has sold a billion dollars in 50-year nonredeemable bonds, they can continue obligating ratepayers for projects that have nothing to do with the production of electricity. Of course, TVA has been on the “self-sufficiency” kick since 1959 when Congress voted to release TVA from serious oversight, i.e., no more pesky appropriations.

Since then, TVA has been on a rampage of mismanagement, over-spending of billions, acquiring more and more electric utilities and locking those dollars in for ratepayers, who have no stake in TVA. Their only gain is in an increase in electricity bills.

I know, I know, Congress has too much on its plate to worry about a renegade federal agency. The fact is that TVA is running up the cost of electricity not only to ratepayers but ultimately to taxpayers. It’s a “no-win, no-win” predicament that only Congress can solve. The immediate thing they can do is to begin the process of TVA privatization.

Years ago, many of the cities and communities in the South participated in the now defunct Urban Renewal Administration (URA) programs. A lot of them were in TVA territory. TVA is undertaking many of the same kinds of projects common to URA. Through loans and grants, URA disbursed many millions of federal tax dollars.

Now, TVA is heading down the same path as urban renewal, the failed agency. If history repeats itself, TVA is a good example. TVA has gone so far as to model the Shoals in N. Alabama after an urban renewal project; the same kind of approvals required by TVA before any land can be sold.

I participated in a URA study that found the hang-up in many of the 1,500 active urban renewal projects nationwide. It seems that the original project design was flawed. The way the program was designed, completion of projects would go on indefinitely; just as are the designs of the TVA projects in Sheffield and Muscle Shoals. What is guaranteed is that federal oversight by TVA is assured for many years.

What the study of URA projects found out was the planning of projects averaged three years and the execution of them was 15 years – and counting.

Will federal involvement in the South go on forever? Will there ever return again the entrepreneurialism that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison sparked in the 1920s? In my opinion N. Alabama will continue its present state as long as the federal largess continues to flow; as long as TVA has a hand in it.

Ernest Norsworthy