An “ultimate power mix” from multiple sources is needed for a smarter, safer and more efficient electricity supply for Memphis

By Bill Bullock

The City is on the verge of making some very important decisions regarding the future electricity supply for Memphis.

My belief is that some combination of connecting with another system operator like MISO – Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the country’s largest nonprofit provider of electricity, serving DeSoto County, Mississippi, and Crittenden County, Arkansas – and finding power from other sources, especially locally generated solar power, can be safer and financially advantageous for all of Shelby County.

I had a 35-year career at Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW) on the energy side of the business, and I have followed with interest the developments in the last few years. We owe it to current and future MLGW rate-payers to explore all possibilities.

If the electricity supply plan included local solar generation (whether operated by MLGW or by a 3rd party) it would necessarily mean years of local construction jobs in that sector. The same would hold true if any new natural gas-fired plants were needed to provide redundancy.

I worked successfully hand in hand with the Tennessee Valley Authority for decades (the TVA supplies our power now). I count many current and former TVA employees as friends. However, I’m concerned that TVA has lost its way.

Without intense effort by Memphians, TVA would likely be polluting our drinking aquifer with toxic chemicals. I was paying attention years ago when they announced the new natural gas-fired plant, and was pleased their plan was to use sewer effluent to cool the plant. What happened resembled a bait and switch. When the plant was under construction, so were several significant wells into our drinking aquifer. The entire world knows that is a foolish thing to do, but TVA held their course until it was proven that sucking water from under the plant was causing TVA-released chemicals from the groundwater to get into our drinking water supply. I was disappointed when they stuck to their guns until forced to change course.

I was disappointed when TVA told Memphis, take it or leave it. They said they will not negotiate rates, and they will not allow MLGW to be a partial requirements customer.

And I’m disappointed now that they are spending huge amounts of our rate money in publicity and lobbying efforts. It appears they are attempting to pressure Memphis into entering into another long-term contract at rates they can increase at will.

There is an interesting parallel with MLGW and Natural Gas. MLGW originally had a connection to one interstate pipeline for all requirements, and paid set rates for all gas, storage, peaking and balancing services. Today, MLGW is connected to 3 interstate pipelines, and can purchase gas from many companies and locations across the country at the best price, and move the gas to Memphis on the pipeline that supplies the most competitive rates. 

I believe that the ultimate power mix for Memphis should consist of power from TVA, local solar generation, and potentially sources from the west. Technology is changing rapidly, the earth is getting warmer, and we need to get smarter in how we use and generate electricity. 

Future generations are depending upon us.

Bill Bullock is a native Memphian who retired from MLGW over 3 years ago after a 35 year career. During his career at MLGW he was involved in Energy Management, Natural Gas Risk Management, Industrial Customer Relations and Economic Development. He is a Certified Energy Manager. 

Today Bill is active in the Evergreen Historic District, a bugler and State Director for Bugles Across America, passionate about native plants and keeping non-native invasive plants under control in the Overton Park Old Forest, is married to Teresa and has two grown sons and one grandson.

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