Looking back on my 45 years in the energy sector.
Roy Palk is senior energy advisor for the national law firm LeClairRyan, and works out of the firm’s office in Glen Allen, Virginia. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1970 when I joined Tri County Electric Membership Corp., an electric cooperative served by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the energy sector was poised for strong growth. Compared to today, it was a relatively simple business.
Back then, rates were cheap just about everywhere. The retail kilowatt-hour cost could run less than a penny at the bottom end of the TVA's rate structure. To cover debt service, the more kilowatt-hours you could sell, the better, so rolling out infrastructure was the real challenge.
Back then, there were still people in Appalachia whose small hamlets lacked power. In many cases, they were thrilled at the sight of TVA transmission lines and power poles moving toward them. And of course, everybody knew where that power came from - either from a hydroelectric dam or a rich vein of coal.
But the pace of change quickened considerably over my next 17 years at two different TVA-supplied electric distribution cooperatives. As you might expect, the onset of federal environmental regulations was the start of it all.
Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act arrived during my first year on the job in 1970. Two years later, Congress passed sweeping amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, and the Clean Water Act was born.