KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The former head of Duke Energy was named head of the Tennessee Valley Authority on Monday morning.
The Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors selected William D. “Bill” Johnson to succeed retiring President and CEO Tom Kilgore.
Johnson will take the helm on Jan. 1.
Johnson, 58, is the former CEO of Progress Energy, where he had worked since 1992.
He held a similar job with Duke Energy, the nation’s biggest electricity utility for one day in July when Progress merged with Duke.
Hours after the merger of Progress and Duke, the board replaced Johnson with former Duke CEO Jim Rogers and gave Johnson a reported $44.7 million severance package.
He skirted questions about his past during Monday morning’s press conference.
“I really don’t have a lot to say about that episode. We’re engaged in a merger, the merger got contentious and at the end of the merger, Duke decided they didn’t want me as CEO. My view was it is their right to do that,” Johnson said.
“We are very fortunate to have someone of Bill Johnson’s caliber as TVA’s next president & CEO,” said TVA Board Chair Bill Sansom as a news conference.
“Bill is a seasoned CEO with deep experience leading a company with a diverse energy portfolio – from coal and gas, to nuclear, hydro and renewables. TVA will benefit from his strong leadership skills, deep industry expertise and ability to drive employee engagement.” he continued.
Johnson was tapped to succeed Tom Kilgore, who has said he will retire at the end of the year. Kilgore has served as TVA CEO since 2006.
“I am excited and honored to be selected to lead this organization in its mission of providing low-cost and ever cleaner energy, and promoting stewardship of the resources of the Tennessee Valley,” said Johnson. “I am particularly pleased to be following in the footsteps of Tom Kilgore, an outstanding leader whom I have long admired.”
Kilgore and Johnson both worked together at Progress Energy for seven years.
“He is a person of great integrity, great management leadership skills, and a person I’ve admired for the past 15 years. I figured if it was a good job for him, it’d be a good job for me,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s annual compensation consists of $950,000 in salary and up to $3 million in performance-based bonuses.
Prior to joining Progress Energy, Johnson was a partner with the Raleigh office of Hunton & Williams, where he specialized in the representation of utilities.
Johnson has held numerous leadership positions at the state and local level, including serving as chairman of the North Carolina Chamber.
He graduated from Duke University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history, and received a law degree with high honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1982.
Kilgore will continue to lead TVA until Johnson’s arrival, and then support his smooth transition into the Federal agency. Johnson will operate from TVA’s headquarters in Knoxville.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander praised TVA for the selection.
“The TVA board has elected as chief executive officer one of the nation’s most experienced and respected utility executives,” Sen. Alexander said. “I look forward to working with Bill Johnson and the board to help TVA provide the large amounts of low-cost, clean, and reliable electricity that are crucial to growing new jobs.”
The announcement was not well-received, however, by environmental groups like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
“While we will maintain an open mind, I’m surprised that TVA’s Board would hire Mr. Johnson with his controversial past,” said the group’s executive director, Dr. Stephen Smith.
Smith said the sudden dismissal of Johnson after the merger made him to question whether he was the best fit for the position.
“Mr Johnson has a track record. That track record is clearly known, and its controversial- – he was relieved suddenly as the director with a newly merged company with Duke Power. He’s been controversial in Florida with some troubled nuclear reactors down there,” Smith said.
Under Johnson’s leadership, Progress Energy Florida chose to self-manage an upgrade project at its troubled Crystal River 3 (CR3) nuclear reactor located north of Tampa, Fla. as opposed to bringing in outside experts.
The reactor has been offline since 2009, will cost at least $1.5 billion to repair and won’t be back in service until 2016.
“They cracked the containment vessel on that reactor, and that has led to a multi-billion dollar cost for ratepayers, and it is still not operational,” said Smith.
Despite this, board members hailed his experience with nuclear power plants. TVA is in the process of building a second nuclear reactor at the Watts Bar Dam.
“This is an exciting time to be in the energy business,” he said. “Particularly if you like a challenge.”