Power Poll: MLGW, TVA and Memphis power struggles
Feb. 3 ice storm raises questions, concerns about local utility's flaws and fate
The Feb. 3 ice storm that dazzled and dazed the Memphis area knocked out power to about 55 percent of MLGW's customers. Schools were closed for three days. Power wasn't fully restored for 12 days.
It was the fourth worst storm in the utility's history, said J.T. Young, CEO of Memphis Light, Gas & Water. He estimated utility damages of $14 million.
By comparison, the ice storm of February 1994 caused $31.5 million in damages and power wasn't fully restored for 14 days. "Hurricane Elvis" of July 2003 cut power for 14 days with $14.5 million in damages. The "Tom Lee Storm" of May 2017 cut power for 11 days with $15 million in damages.
How we can all better manage our health in 2022
By Dr. Andrea Willis
Senior Vice President, Chief Medical Officer
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
We’ve entered a third year where COVID-19 remains a primary health concern on the minds of not only all Tennesseans, but practically everyone on the planet. We should remain vigilant and do our part to slow its spread. But we can’t lose sight of the everyday health concerns that are so often set aside.
During this past year, odds are you haven’t felt well and experienced symptoms that aren’t indicative of COVID-19. Whether it’s a nagging pain, persistent heartburn or even symptoms of a condition that runs in your family, you may have put off seeking diagnoses and treatment from your doctor.
Other priorities like child care and work — or as I see with many colleagues and loved ones, managing both at the same time — have a way of pushing preventive health care to the back burner.
While this mindset is logical in the moment, we mustn’t neglect our long-term health goals and needs, either. And a new year remains an opportune time to reassess and recommit to our health.
Resolve for yourself
Managing our health may feel like a self-centered endeavor, which could be why so many of us struggle with it. As both a doctor and a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to put myself first, even just to make time for exercise. Juggling careers and the needs of our families, particularly young children, requires a lot of bandwidth.
But accepting the necessity to focus on yourself — and letting go of any accompanying guilt — is a hurdle many of us must clear. From there, you can dive into your diet, exercise and other preventive care needs.
Your first step should be scheduling an appointment with your primary care provider. They can help you establish an overall picture of your health and set realistic goals.
If you’re one of the many Tennesseans who live with ongoing health conditions like diabetes or heart disease, a primary care provider can help you keep up with medications and routine screenings.
Routine steps like these can improve your quality of life for the rest of your life.
Of course, the cost of care is always a concern, no matter the illness or injury. And making care more affordable is one of our most important jobs as a health insurance company. For BlueCross, it starts with our provider networks and the discounts we negotiate for health care services.
We’ve also introduced a new option for Tennesseans. BlueCross members can visit one of the eight primary care clinics, opened through a partnership between BlueCross and Sanitas, in Middle and West Tennessee. These clinics make access to primary care more affordable and convenient.
Don’t forget vaccines
No matter where you seek care, your provider will likely recommend you get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu. It remains your best defense against severe disease. Vaccines continue to significantly reduce cases of severe illness and death. That matters as hospital bed availability has dwindled, due not only to the Omicron surge but also to staffing shortages.
Hospitals are reporting that their intensive care units are primarily filled with unvaccinated patients.
But even with the increased demand on the health care system, your doctor would prefer to work with you to prevent illness or help you manage a condition you already have so that don’t end up with an emergency situation. If they advise you get tested before coming in, remember that every household can now get free at-home tests through covidtests.gov.
I’m confident we will get through these difficult days. I also know we all want health and happiness for those who matter most to us. They inspire us to be our best selves, as well.
“To the extent we did not live up to our mission, I apologize,” Young told City Council this week. "I know that we can do better and we will."
But a February survey of Power Poll members showed 54 percent believe MLGW did the best it could. Another 32 percent believe the local utility could have done better. Only 13 percent think MLGW failed.
Meanwhile, Power Poll members are less sure about MLGW's long-range forecast.
MLGW is considering leaving the TVA system and finding other, less expensive and greener sources of electricity. Those in favor say the move would save MLGW customers hundreds of millions of dollars. But critics say the move is too risky and the city needs TVA's historic reliability. A decision could be made by summer.
Power Poll members are evenly divided on the matter: 22 percent think MLGW should leave TVA, and 22 percent think MLGW should stay. Another 16 percent think the city should sell MLGW and get out of the public utility business altogether.
Interestingly, 28 percent think TVA should lower its rates for MLGW, by far its largest customer. Unfortunately, TVA is prohibited from lowering its rates here unless it does the same for all 153 of its local power companies.
Power Poll members are more in agreement about recent news that Carlee McCullough, one of five MLGW commissioners, failed to disclose a conflict of interest.
Last week, the Institute for Pubic Service Reporting at the University of Memphis reported that McCullough operates a local restaurant with the wife of TVA regional vice president Mark Yates.
Thirty-seven percent of members said it's a clear conflict of interest and McCullough should recuse herself on all votes related to TVA.
Another 18 percent agreed that it was a "brazen move" by TVA to influence MLGW. But 11 percent see it as a "smart move" by TVA, and another 22 percent think the connection is purely coincidental.
The three-year terms of all five members of MLGW’s governing board are long expired, and four of the five ended nearly three years ago, the Institute also reported. McCullough's term expired in October 2019.
Mayor Jim Strickland’s office said he made a decision not to appoint or reappoint anyone to the board until officials closed the bidding process for seeking power suppliers that might replace TVA.
Earlier this week, Young and Strickland announced the formation of a citizens committee to come up with ways to avoid massive power outages in the future.
Last week, Strickland suggested that the city could sell MLGW and use the proceeds to bury all power lines underground.
Sixteen percent of Power Poll members think that's a good idea. Such a sale would have to be approved in a citywide referendum.
“I want to be perfectly clear — I’m not advocating for this yet, but it’s something we as a community must thoroughly review," Strickland wrote in his weekly email to citizens.
Strickland listed 14 major storms that have resulted in widespread power outages here since 2003.
"These storms happen too frequently, and we need to explore options to reduce their impact,” the mayor wrote.
Young told City Council this week that burying all electric utilities would cost billions of dollars and would not eliminate electric outages.
The Feb. 14-17 survey was sent to 248 Power Poll members; 79 responded, a response rate of 31.85%.
The Power Poll is not a scientific poll, but a glimpse into the minds of those who wield influence in Memphis. Members include public officials, CEOs, small business owners, community activists, restaurant owners and others. Power Poll is decidedly non-partisan.