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Advocacy groups call for investigation into TVA for 'excessive purchases' totaling $40M

PHOTO provided by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Three advocacy groups are calling for an investigation into the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for what they call "excessive purchases" of aircraft totaling $40 million.

The Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), and Conservatives for Energy Freedom (CEF), are questioning the spending on luxury jets and a Mercedes Benz helicopter once used by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The groups say according to FAA records, executives at the TVA have authorized the purchase of the two jets and helicopter over the past 2.5 years.

SACE Executive Director Dr. Stephen A. Smith states in a press release “Buying extravagant jets and helicopters is a hijacking of the TVA act, whose stated purpose is to protect the residential customers, not buy flashy toys for millionaire executives or cut backroom deals with private industry. This is the very definition of corruption of the TVA mission."

Although the SACE admits helicopters are used by the TVA for transmission work, the group questions the need for a $7 million helicopter.

FOX 17 News reached out to the TVA and received the following response to the claims, citing aircraft safety and the helicopter's efficiency.

"TVA serves an 80,000 square mile service area and our employees routinely travel throughout this area to meet with a large number of customers and other stakeholders in parts of seven states as well as prospective companies looking to invest in the Tennessee Valley.

The majority of these locations do not have commercial air service, leaving private aircraft as the only option for safe, timely travel.

TVA operates two identical, late-model business jets for this purpose, which increases safety and reduces operational and maintenance costs. A turboprop aircraft was replaced with the second jet in 2017 because the safety record of jet aircraft is superior to turboprops, and fleet standardization – where pilots train and fly only one type of aircraft – is a proven safety risk management technique used by the military and the commercial airline industry.

The decision to replace the older turboprop was made following an evaluation of TVA’s flight safety program following the fatal crash of a TVA helicopter. The operational costs of the modern jets are only 7 percent higher than the older turboprops while offering improved safety and performance.

Likewise, TVA operates helicopters that are used for a variety of purposes, from transmission line maintenance to supporting economic development activities. The use of helicopters to support transmission line inspection, maintenance and repairs throughout our 16,000-mile transmission system reduces operating and maintenance costs.

The most recent helicopter purchased is larger and holds more passengers to improve the effectiveness of our economic development activities.

We take our responsibilities to be good custodians of our ratepayer’s funds seriously. We have policies and processes in place to ensure that the use of any TVA aircraft is for valid business purposes."

The groups are calling for an investigation and leaders at the federal and state levels to "enact legislation designed to reverse the current path TVA has chartered that is not in keeping with the original intent of the organization charter.” They are also calling for the resignation of TVA CEO Bill Johnson.

On Monday, the release of President Donald Trump's infrastructure proposal called for an examination into selling the TVA and other public utilities' transmission lines.

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