Retired TVA leader offers local insight
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Apr 19, 2013 | 986 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kiwanis Club of Cleveland program chair Bruce Bradford, left, poses for a photo with Thursday’s guest speaker, retired TVA President/CEO Tom Kilgore, and club president Chris Newton. Banner photo, DAVID DAVIS
Kiwanis Club of Cleveland program chair Bruce Bradford, left, poses for a photo with Thursday’s guest speaker, retired TVA President/CEO Tom Kilgore, and club president Chris Newton. Banner photo, DAVID DAVIS
“Your dreams need to exceed your memories,” Tom Kilgore told the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland Thursday during the club’s weekly meeting.

Kilgore retired as president and chief executive officer of the Tennessee Valley Authority at the end of 2012. He was appointed president and chief operating officer in March 2005, then in October 2006 he took on the title of president and CEO.

“I’m retired. I’m not speaking for TVA, but I still like to talk about things from personal experience,” he said.

One memory is the tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011, from his perspective of being responsible for 17,000 miles of electric lines, and specifically the nuclear power plant at Browns Ferry that was incapacitated. During some intense hours of sitting on pins and needles in Knoxville, the plant in Alabama was safely shut down.

He said scars are still visible where the storms traveled even after rebuilding. It was a traumatic day, but time marches into the future.

“You have to put this in the rearview mirror. You have to learn the lessons that you can never be totally safe, regardless of what care you take. You always have to know disaster could happen,” he said. “But time marches on, and we have to get our eyes off the past and go to the future.”

He said to keep an eye on plans as time passes. Kilgore paraphrased a statement by the late President and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower who said his plans were seldom useful in the midst of battle though planning was essential.

“If you don’t go through the process of planning; if you don’t think about potential problems and you don’t think about what could go on, you’ll be sunk when you get to a critical part. But, when you get to the heat of battle or competition, you’ve got to be willing to adjust and know the best-laid-plans of mice and men go awry,” he said. “Keep on planning. Keep on working. Communicate together and know the future looks bright for Bradley County.”

He said Dr. David Jeremiah, a preacher, offered the advice about dreams exceeding memories, while talking about vision.

“Now at my age, that’s a pretty tall order because I’ve got a lot of memories. I’ve worked for four different utility companies, I’ve been CEO of three different companies. I’ve had a lot of experience, hit almost all 50 states and am going to make the rest of them this fall,” Kilgore said. “Your dreams here in Bradley and surrounding counties need to be about how can we continue to prosper and do things in the right way, so we can lay a good foundation for those who follow us.”

He said Bradley County is doing very well by attracting Wacker Polysilicon North America and Amazon.

“The thing that excites me is Amazon coming here. If you think about what we’ve come from ... I remember my first cellphone was about the size of a brick,” he said. “Today, we carry what amounts to a small computer on our belt.”

He said he learned from his cellphone that the Kiwanis Club had controversy in its formative years and deviating from his train of thought, he said, “You had a little controversy, just like TVA has controversy. One of the best quotes I’ve heard about TVA is ‘TVA is controversial because it is significant.’ If it wasn’t significant, it wouldn’t be controversial. Nobody cares about things that don’t matter. But because it matters, it is controversial. When you have someone like the president propose to sell it, it’s a little bit controversial.”

He said some people oppose selling the utility and others do not know. He said they could try, but if it is sold, then TVA’s debt must be paid off. Though TVA’s debt is counted as federal debt, it is actually owned by TVA bondholders.

“It’s owed to private individuals, so the fact that they count it is a mistake,” he said. “If you sold TVA, you’d still have to pay off the debt.”

During a question-and-answer period, he said Chickamauga Lock will be finished.

“I don’t know how, but we’ll get that lock finished, it’s too important,” he said.

In response to a question about nuclear power, he said 74 percent of the electricity in France is produced by nuclear power plants. By comparison, about 40 percent is produced by nuclear power in the Tennessee Valley and about 22 percent in the United States.

“I would say nuclear power is essential because it doesn’t produce anything that contributes to global warming at all. It produces no carbon dioxide. It produces no sulfur dioxide and it produces no nitrous oxide,” he said.

He does not advocate 100 percent nuclear power. He said the future will lead to the smaller plants similar to those used on U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.

“Georgia Power is building a plant from scratch right now and it’s going to cost them $14 billion,” he said. “You can’t afford to build the big ones with everything it’s going to take, but you can afford to build the small ones.”