Category Archives: Tennessee Regulatory Authority

Ramsey appoints Hill to new 6-year term at TRA

Kenneth C. Hill of Blountville, first appointed a director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority in 2009, has been named to another six-year term by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

Hill, father of state Reps. Mathew Hill and Timothy Hill, House and Senate resolutions confirming the appointment of Hill, is a past chairman of the utility oversight agency.

Resolutions confirming Hill’s appointment (SJR693 and HJR758 await approval by the Legislature on Wednesday, expected to be the final day of the 2016 session.

Natural gas company reduces rate increase under deal with AG

News release from Attorney General’s office:
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III today announced a settlement with Atmos Energy Corporation (Atmos) that significantly reduces a proposed rate increase to natural gas consumers. The settlement provides that consumers’ rates will only increase 0.5%, which is substantially less than the 3.9% rate increase Atmos originally requested.

“This agreement accomplishes two very important things. It keeps rates down for consumers while allowing Atmos revenues sufficient to earn a fair and reasonable return on its capital investments,” said Attorney General Slatery.

Atmos initially asked the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) to raise consumers’ rates by approximately $5.89 million. This would have increased the natural gas bill for the average residential consumer by $2.09 per month. Instead, the settlement will sharply reduce this increase to approximately $711,000. The net result is that the average residential consumer will only see an estimated 26 cents per month increase.

The Consumer Advocate and Protection Division of the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office represents the interests of Tennessee consumers of public utilities services. In this case, the Consumer Advocate intervened on behalf of ratepayers to negotiate the agreement.

The settlement also limits the rate of return on equity that Atmos may earn on its capital investments. Atmos had requested a 10.7% return on equity, but the settlement permits a maximum return on equity of 9.8%. This lower return will help keep consumers’ natural gas rates low into the future.

Atmos is a public utility that provides natural gas service to approximately 132,000 residential, commercial, and industrial consumers in Tennessee. Atmos serves Bedford, Blount, Carter, Greene, Hamblen, Maury, Moore, Obion, Rutherford, Sullivan, and Williamson Counties.

The new rates will go into effect on June 1, 2015.

Bill allowing TN cities to expand Internet service dead for the year

A bill allowing municipalities to expand Internet services beyond their electric service limits has been shelved for the year, reports The Tennessean.

State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, who co-sponsored the bill (H1303), said holding the measure would make it easier to pass next year.

“We have had a lot of good progress, and we don’t want to throw it all away,” Brooks said. The votes were not there in the Senate, and he and co-sponsor state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, have asked to roll the bill to the beginning of the 2016 calendar, giving them more time to garner support from their colleagues.

“We have pressed the pause button to keep it alive,” Brooks said.
The decision comes as a blow to the Tennesseans living close to the several municipalities offering broadband — Chattanooga, Clarksville, Columbia, Tullahoma, Bristol, Morristown and Pulaski — most providing gigabit speeds. Many residents lack basic broadband options from private-sector companies and rely on satellite instead, or they seek to upgrade to faster or cheaper Internet speeds offered by their neighboring cities.

Similar bills to lift the municipal restrictions have died in at least three previous sessions. Bowling and Brooks had both expected a more promising response this year, given a recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that allowed Chattanooga to expand its gigabit service. With Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery seeking to overturn the FCC’s vote, they revised their outlook for the current session.

Slatery was among several Tennessee political leaders, including Gov. Bill Haslam and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, opposed to the FCC’s decision, calling it federal overreach.

TRA approves project bringing Oklahoma wind energy to TN

The Tennessee Regulatory Authority has approved operation of a transmission line into the state by Plains & Eastern Clean Line LLC, reports the Memphis Business Journal.

Plains & Eastern Clean Line is planning a 700-mile electric transmission project that will deliver wind energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle region to utilities and customers in Tennessee, Arkansas and other markets in the Southeast.

The project’s goal is to provide affordable, renewable energy to more than one million homes annually, create construction jobs in Tennessee and help reduce air pollution. Clean Line Energy Partners LLC, a Houston-based company, is investing $2 billion in the project, and the company has an exclusive contract in place to acquire 208 acres on Miller Road in Millington.

In early 2014, the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County approved an 11-year tax abatement for Plains and Eastern Clean Line.

…”Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry and its manufacturing division the Tennessee Manufacturers Association applauds this decision by the TRA on behalf of the Plains & Eastern Clean Line,” said Catherine Glover, president of Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “We believe this is a strong example of Tennessee moving forward as a clean energy leader, attracting new business investment and spurring job creation.”

Further, from Wind Power Monthly:
Last year, Clean Line issued a request for expressions of interest in capacity on the transmission line. The company said fifteen potential customers submitted more than 17GW of requests for capacity.

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Southwestern Power Administration is carrying out an environmental review of the line.

In December, it issued the draft environmental impact statement which initiated a 90-day public comment period, scheduled to conclude in March.

As part of this, the DOE will host 15 public meetings in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas during January and February. Clean line said it expects construction to begin in 2016, with a construction time of two to three years.

Harwell Names New TRA Director

A Chattanooga businesswoman has been named by House Speaker Beth Harwell to fill a vacant director position on the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
Robin Bennett currently serves as a vice president and financial center manager for First Tennessee and, according to Harwell, brings to the agency experience in customer relations, business management and federal and regulatory compliance.
Bennett replaces Sara Kyle, who resigned from the TRA in March. The agency regulates investor-owned water and electric utilities, as well as some telephone services.
The mission of the TRA is to promote the public interest by balancing the interests of consumers and monopoly utilities.

Sara Kyle Resigns as TRA Director

NASHVILLE – Sara P. Kyle announced her resignation from the Tennessee Regulatory Authority Wednesday after 19 years of serving on the agency and its predecessor, the Public Service Commission.
“I have enjoyed working with and learning from the best and brightest team anywhere in the nation,” said Kyle in a statement. “I have truly appreciated the opportunities afforded me and I wish the directors and staff much success in the future.”
Kyle was elected to the PSC in 1994, becoming the third woman elected to statewide office in Tennessee. The PSC was abolished and replaced with the TRA in 1996.
Since then the TRA has gone through other changes that, in general, reduced its authority in various areas. A bill enacted at the urging of Gov. Bill Haslam last year eliminated the TRA’s three-member full-time board and replaced it with a five-member part-time board, though Kyle remained as one of the part-time directors.
In her statement, Kyle said the 2012 law “severely limited our ability to render fair and just decisions.
“With less time and reduced staff, we have fewer checks and balances and less opportunity to protect Tennessee consumers from unfair practices in the utilities industry.”
A former teacher, legislative staffer and attorney, Kyle was elected as a judge in the Memphis City Court system in 1991, resigning from that position for her successful run as a Democratic PSC candidate in 1994. She is married to state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle.
Her current term would have expired next year. She had been appointed to the TRA by then-House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh.

Update Note: For more details, see the Commercial Appeal report.

AG: Haslam Bill Makes It Easier for Utilities to Raise Rates

Attorney General Bob Cooper’s office warned Wednesday that Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to streamline rate setting for utilities shifts their “business risks” onto households and businesses, effectively making them guarantee the monopolies’ profits, reports Andy Sher.
“What this does in our opinion is make it more likely that rates will increase for business and households,” Assistant Attorney General Vance Broemel told House Business and Utilities Committee members Wednesday.
Broemel is the chief attorney in the attorney general’s Consumer Advocate Division, which often intervenes in rate hearings on increases sought by utilities.
But Tennessee Regulatory Chairman Jim Allison sought to assure lawmakers, saying similar changes have been put into place in states like Georgia. Tens of thousands of customers served by companies like Tennessee American Water and Chattanooga Gas need not be fearful, he said.
“The attorney general is focused in a very narrow sense on the rate of return” for utilities, Allison said. “But what they’ve missed is before TRA will allow anyone to enter into one of these, we have to go into a process to establish that this is in the public interest.”
The panel approved the administration bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, on a voice vote.
Haslam’s bill, developed in conjunction with the governor’s recently reshaped TRA, creates a new regulatory framework for dozens of investor-owned utilities.
It won’t apply to public power distributors or AT&T and some other telecommunications companies under “market regulation.” The bill also cuts regulatory fees paid to the state by some companies, including AT&T, while increasing them for others like the water and gas utilities.
Lowered fees will reduce TRA’s revenues for operations by an estimated $1.1 million annually and result in staff reductions, according to a fiscal note on the bill.
The bill creates “alternative regulatory” methods that can be used instead of full-blown rate hearings utilities now must go through. But it keeps such hearings for utilities that wish to continue them.


See also The Tennessean report. An excerpt:
In his Tuesday letter to the House Business and Utilities Committee, the attorney general said the bill would effectively shift the utilities’ “business risks to Tennessee households and businesses,” ensuring that the companies make “monopoly profits” regardless of how well they are managed.
“Furthermore, under the proposed annual rate review mechanism, utility customers who have enjoyed rate stability under the current system can expect yearly rate increases in many cases,” Cooper wrote.
Despite Cooper’s warning, the bill was cleared by the committee Wednesday on a voice vote and was sent to the House Finance Committee. The companion Senate bill has yet to see any movement, the attorney general’s office said Thursday
.

Bill Cuts ‘LifeLine’ Phone Subsidy for the Poor

About 93,000 low-income Tennesseans would pay $3.50 per month more for basic landline phone service with passage of legislation moving quickly through the Legislature with support of AT&T, a company now losing money under the present system.
“It ends a mandate to fund social programs without being reimbursed,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, in the only reference to the provision within SB1180 during a Senate committee hearing.
The measure — known as “the AT&T bill,” though Norris pointed out that it impacts other telecommunications companies as well — was approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote this evening. A House committee, meanwhile, approved the companion bill last week — sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, unanimously without any discussion.
The provision on “Lifeline” service, intended to assure the poor have access to basic phone service, is part of a package to eliminate what McCormick called in brief remarks to the House committee “obsolete language” and “regulatory underbrush” that could “hinder investment in Tennessee.”

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New TRA Boss Got a Job He Didn’t Seek (initially)

After the General Assembly approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed overhaul of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority last spring, Knoxville businessman Earl R. Taylor thought he might be a good fit as one of the agency’s five new part-time directors.
But Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who knew Taylor, and the governor’s top staffers instead saw Taylor in a different role at the TRA, which sets rates and service standards for privately owned utilities.
Further from Andy Sher:
The governor decided Taylor, who had worked as an attorney and television affiliate executive before becoming a Panera Bread restaurant franchisee with multistate operations, was the best choice for the reconfigured authority’s powerful new executive director position.
So on July 31, Haslam; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is Senate speaker; and House Speaker Beth Harwell named Taylor as executive director. He is in effect the TRA’s chief operating officer.
…n a recent interview, Taylor said he’s enjoying his new role and has discovered “a very good group of people working here, very capable, dedicated smart folks. We’re blessed to have a lot of great people here at the TRA.”
The “learning curve’s pretty steep, but we’re getting there,” he said.
…The appointment took agency officials, utility attorneys and news organizations by surprise. Taylor’s name wasn’t on the list of 18 applicants released earlier by the administration to the Times Free Press.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” Haslam said. “When I was elected … we had a lot of people apply for positions, some of whom I chose. A lot of people who are agency heads and commissioners didn’t apply. I went out and found them and got them to do it.”
That doesn’t mean “there’s anything wrong with the process,” the governor said. “I think it kind of works to open it up: here’s the position, see who applies. But our job is always to find the very best person that we can.”

TRA Gets Executive Director, Two New Part-time Directors

Thirty days after a new law took effect transforming the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, the utility regulating agency got an executive director and a quorum for its new part-time board on Tuesday.
Earl R. Taylor, a Panera Bread franchisee who lives in Knoxville and has previously worked as a consultant to media companies, was named as the full-time executive director of the agency jointly by Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.
Previously, the TRA had four full-time directors and no executive director. Under the legislation passed this year at Haslam’s urging, it will have five part-time directors and a full-time executive director.
Two of the part-time director positions were also filled Tuesday by appointment of James Allison and Herbert Hillard.
Allison is president and CEO of the Duck River Electric Membership Corp., headquartered in Shelbyville. He grew up in Maryville, according to Haslam spokesman and is described in a news release as “also regarded as one of the top instant replay officials in college football after having been an on-field official in the Southeastern Conference for more than 12 years.”
Hillard is executive vice president and chief government relatons officer of First Horizon National Corp. in Memphis.
Two of the former full-time TRA directors – Kenneth Hill and Sara Kyle – remain as part-time directors after the agency overhaul. One part-time director position still remains to be filled.
The new law took effect July 1 and when it did, the agency was left with only two of the part-time board members in place – not enough for a quorum – and with no executive director. The appointments Tuesday resolve that situation.
Taylor was not among the 18 persons who initially applied for the TRA executive director position.
“We wanted to cast as wide a net as possible, so we had those who applied and we also had conversations with others who might be interested,” said Haslam spokesman David Smith in an email. “We’re excited Mr. Taylor is willing to serve in this capacity.”
Taylor’s resume, provided by the governor’s office, says that as a Panera franchisee since 2000, he has developed stores in Florida and has stores under development in Texas and Louisiana. Before that, he was employed by Harmony Media as a consultant. In the 1990s, the resume says Taylor “developed and signed-on” WBXX-TV, Channel 20, in Knoxville and served as general partner and in other capacities at WKXT-TV in Knoxville.
Before that, he practiced law in Johnson City. He holds a bachelor’s degree from UT Knoxville and a law degree from the University of Memphis.

Note: The governor’s news release is below.

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