Mark Yates: "The best example I can give of a long-standing partnership that has helped propel Memphis into the future is the one between Memphis Light Gas and Water Division and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which will hit its 87-year milestone this Saturday (Nov. 6)." (Courtesy photo)

by Mark Yates —

Growing up in Whitehaven, I always had a particular pride in my city. 

So, when telling someone where I was from, even as a young man, I stood up a little straighter when I said the word – Memphis.

Memphis is a tapestry of many talents – a collective of amazing, committed, innovative people who strive every day to make life better for their neighbors.  

And I’m proud to be here, doing what Memphians do best – work toward a brighter future by building powerful partnerships. 

The best example I can give of a long-standing partnership that has helped propel Memphis into the future is the one between Memphis Light Gas and Water Division and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which will hit its 87-year milestone this Saturday (Nov. 6).

To celebrate this historic Memphis event, we are hosting a TVA Tailgate Party before the University of Memphis homecoming game on Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Tiger Lane at the Liberty Bowl Stadium.

The event is free, and the public is invited. 

Even as I near my first anniversary with the TVA as its West Region Vice President, I am drawn to reflect on the 87th anniversary of the TVA and MLGW partnership, and all we have accomplished together.  

In April 1934, after the newly developed Tennessee Valley Authority was formed under the Roosevelt administration, Memphis officials met with TVA to discuss how they could make life better for their citizens.

Those officials returned home convinced that TVA would help make Memphis “a great city of prosperous, happy people.”

Seven months later, in a special election on Nov. 6, 1934, residents voted by a margin of 16-to-1 to join the TVA system. 

On that day, Memphis and TVA started their interconnected journey.  

Memphians were so enthused about the potential of the partnership, they named a street Downtown after the vote.  TVA was equally pleased.

Because of Memphians who believed in TVA, we could fulfill our mission of making life better for the people we serve. 

In 1935, the unified Memphis Light & Water Division was formed to oversee power and water systems, and a contract was signed with TVA. 

Four years later, when the City of Memphis bought the privately-owned Memphis Power & Light, TVA contributed $2.1 million of the $17.3 million price tag.

TVA, Memphis and MLGW have been partners since then – with one notable exception. 

Memphis left the TVA system in 1958 when the federal government proposed allowing a private company to construct a generating plant to serve the Memphis area in lieu of TVA. Memphis opted instead to build Allen Steam Plant and generate its own power. In 1965, recognizing an opportunity to lower its costs and provide more stable rates, MLGW returned to the TVA system.

Fast forward to 2021, TVA serves 10 million people in seven states. Memphis is still our largest customer.  

The former Allen plant, built by MLGW in 1956, has been shuttered and replaced with TVA’s $1 billion Allen Combined Cycle Plant, which is also home to a 1-megawatt solar farm.  This site can generate roughly 1,000 megawatts of power – or enough to help MLGW power more than 500,000 homes and businesses.  

In early February of this year, when Memphis was hit by a winter vortex, MLGW and TVA worked together to keep the power on for our citizens and avoid the countless hardships wreaked on many cities across the Southern states. 

However, MLGW and TVA work together to power not just our homes and businesses here in Memphis, but our potential, too – by helping create a future we all believe in.

When the COVID pandemic hit the world in 2020, TVA provided MLGW with $20 million in bill credits as part of TVA’s pandemic relief program.  

We also contributed $400,000 to match MLGW’s efforts to provide 550,000 meals through food banks and utility bill support through the TVA Community Care Fund.  Both of those programs were renewed by TVA again this year to continue helping those hit hardest by the pandemic.

MLGW and TVA are partners in public power, meaning we work together to use stable rates and reliable power to attract businesses that develop our area’s economy and provide new opportunities for families and the community.

This partnership has helped bring more than 47,000 jobs and $6 billion in investment to the MLGW service area in less than a decade.  

After 87 years, TVA is still committed to Memphis and determined to remain the public power provider for MLGW.
We remain dedicated to energy, the environment and economic development. We continue to focus on our mission of making life better for the people we serve.

So, if you are ever strolling through Downtown Memphis to catch lunch or after a special event, and you happen to come across the street sign for “November 6 St.,” remember nearly 90 years of partnership between TVA and Memphis, working together to serve our community.  

Hope to see you on Saturday.  

(Mark Yates is Regional Vice President, West Region, TVA.)