KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) is calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority to answer for rolling blackouts that happened across Tennessee on the days leading up to Christmas.
In a letter, which was addressed to TVA President and CEO Jeffery Lyash, Burchett asked TVA to answer why the federally owned company wasn't prepared to deal with the power demand in the days leading up to Christmas.
"TVA appears to have been caught completely flat-footed," Burchett wrote. "I hope you agree that this is unacceptable."
Burchett said his power went out on Christmas Eve, causing one of his pipes to burst. He said he spent most of Christmas and the day after Christmas trying to fix the pipe.
"They have one job, really, when you throw that switch, the power is supposed to come on," Burchett said. "They failed us."
Burchett said TVA scheduled a conference call with lawmakers but contacted his office 35 minutes before the call on Christmas Eve.
"To me, it's just arrogance on their part," Burchett said. "You have a TVA director who makes $8 million a year, and he doesn't allow anyone to ask any questions on this call."
The congressman said he would like to see TVA clean house and for TVA to install a new structure at the top, including firing its president and restructuring its board.
"The problem is, nobody is afraid of losing their job," Burchett said. "I'll guarantee you that Duke Energy, which is privately held and they had some of the same problems, that somebody's going to lose their job."
Stephen Smith, the executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, echoed Burchett's beliefs on the "arrogance" at TVA but said the problem is TVA isn't investing in energy efficiency as much as it should.
"They aren't really getting at the root problem," Smith said. "This is coming back to bite them with these extreme temperature swings that we're seeing."
Smith said he'd like to see an independent investigation on why TVA needed rolling blackouts to make it through this weekend.
"TVA is a federal, self-regulated monopoly that doesn't have the same level of oversight," Smith said. "We really need to see an independent review of what happened."
After Christmas, TVA said it set multiple records for power demand after frigid weather and subzero windchill temperatures settled into the majority of the seven-state area it supplies power to. Electric companies in Tennessee, including KUB, said TVA implemented mandatory rolling outages on Dec. 23 and 24 to reduce the power load and keep the grid stable.
TVA sent a statement to 10News late Wednesday evening, accepting responsibility and vowing to start a full review into the rolling blackouts.
"We are conducting a thorough review of what occurred and why. We are committed to sharing these lessons learned and – more importantly – the corrective actions we take in the weeks ahead to ensure we are prepared to manage significant events in the future.
With sustained record-breaking cold temperatures and high winds, winter storm “Elliott” strained power grids across the nation late last week. During a 24-hour period on Friday, Dec. 23, TVA supplied more power than at any other time in its nearly 90-year history. This event also produced the highest winter power peak in TVA history.
It was also the first time in TVA’s 90-year history that we’ve had to direct targeted load curtailments due to extreme power demand."