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PERSPECTIVE: Memphis has the power!

A group of 15 concerned citizens joined Dr. Stephen A. Smith at the Nov. 9 TVA board meeting at Pickwick Dam. Making the trip were representatives from the Memphis NAACP Branch, Tennesseans for Solar Choice, Tennessee Alliance for Progress and Climate Nashville and Conservatives for Energy Freedom. (Courtesy photo)

by Dr. Stephen Smith

(Since 1993, Dr. Stephen A. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization working to promote responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe and healthy communities throughout the Southeast.”

People in this city spend a higher percentage of their income on their power bills than any other city in the United States. …This high “energy burden” has many causes, but one thing is for sure, raising people’s electric rates will only make the problem worse. This week MLGW is before the city council asking for a rate increase as part of their budget. It’s time to wake up.

Here is where a little sunshine can help clear up the issue. It’s entirely likely that MLGW’s rate increase is really the result of the dirty work of MLGW’s overlord, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). I say overlord because MLGW signed a contract that requires Memphis to get all of its electrical power from TVA – a self-regulated monopoly. If TVA wants to raise power rates, they do it, and no one can stop them. These rate increases simply get passed on to you and me.

Now TVA wants people to pay a higher “fixed cost.” This means you will have to pay a higher, mandatory “Service Charge” on your bill before you even flip a switch in your home. It appears that MLGW is following TVA’s lead, since MLGW’s budget also includes adding more to your fixed “Service Charge” on your bill. MLGW’s budget could be approved by the Memphis City Council as early as December 5th, but Memphis has the power to say “NO!”

We know TVA has been meeting with large industrial customers to discuss lowering the rates for these big guys while raising rates on us little guys – you and me, the residential customers. Indeed, the big industrial customers rates have dropped close to 20 percent over the last few years.

So, why are these discriminatory fixed charges being proposed for residential customers while the big industrial customers get lower rates? It is because TVA has been hacked – taken over by leaders who pay their executives millions of dollars, literally, in inflated salaries and who fly on corporate jets to secret closed door meetings where they cut deals with big companies. …TVA’s CEO, Bill Johnson, is the highest paid federal employee in the United States with an annual salary of more than $6 million dollar. ….

These rate changes TVA is pushing not only hurt poor people by making it harder for them to save money by conserving power, it also blocks new technologies that can help people, like solar power. … TVA is not excited about people using the sun to generate their own power, because they want you to have to buy power from them.

If you are not mad, you’re not paying attention, but Memphis has the power to fight back. In the coming month, the mayor and the city council will decide who will become the head of MLGW as, the current head, Jerry Collins, is retiring in December after 10 years. It is critically important that the mayor appoints a new leader who will fight back and stand up to TVA leaders who are out of touch with the people of Memphis. Memphis really does have the power if we demand our elected officials use it for the common good.

…(A) group of concerned citizens from various parts of West Tennessee recently … voice(d) their concerns at a TVA Board meeting. The tough questions asked by these residential customers …  were in stark contrast to comments at this same meeting made by a number of corporate executives that heaped lavish praise on the board for their own low rates.

Memphian Sharon Smith pointed out that, “by increasing these fixed charges, TVA creates an economic disincentive for low cost energy – like solar – and all but cancels out the economic benefits realized by energy efficiency.”

Sandra Upchurch, chair of the Energy and Environmental Justice Committee for the Memphis Branch NAACP Executive Committee and Energy Justice Manager for SACE, (said) “For too long, African-American communities have suffered the negative health effects of fossil-fuel generation and it’s time they benefit from our new clean energy economy. TVA, a federal entity, is supposed to be taking care of people by investing in energy efficiency and solar energy. Shame on you TVA!  NixTheFix, TVA! No Justice, No Peace!”

After attending the board meeting, Memphian Lawrence Johnson (said), “We don’t have all the information, but what little information we have is very troubling, since it appears that TVA is gearing up to wage war on energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

…A day prior to the TVA board meeting, the newly formed Tennesseans for Solar Choice coalition was officially launched with a press conference in Nashville. At that event, Elder Jimmie Garland, VP of the State NAACP Conference, (said), “Solar choice is about taking the power from monopolies who make decisions behind closed doors and instead giving that power to the people. It is crucial that we support fair access to clean, affordable, healthy solar energy and that we oppose discriminatory fixed charges that hurt people across the valley. …” I concur with Elder Garland!

Tennesseans for Solar Choice is a diverse and multi-partisan coalition … committed to making sure our federal TVA monopoly does not make decisions that limit customer choice for residents, businesses, by imposing unfair rate structures or heavy-handed tactics that restrict the solar power market and hold technology back from helping the little guys.

So, if you’re a concerned resident or a small business owner and you are interested in working together to resolve energy burdens and help overcome barriers to solar development and green jobs – come to our Energy Justice Conference, Power to the People, Fueling the Revolution for Energy Justice, on Thursday, December 7. Join us from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bioworks Foundation 20 Dudley St.

(To RSVP, visit http://bit.ly/2mJU4jj.)

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