The head of the nation's largest public utility — the Tennessee Valley Authority — has announced he’s retiring.
During a board meeting Wednesday, Bill Johnson, the president and CEO of the TVA, said he’ll step down sometime next year, when his successor is found. He has led the TVA for nearly six years.
"You know, when I came to TVA, I didn't mean to hang around this long," he said. "But I caught the bug. I caught the TVA bug and the public power bug, and been a fascinating six years for me."
The Knoxville News Sentinel notes Johnson is the country's highest-paid federal employee. He gets a compensation package of around $6.5 million, including base salary of just under $1 million. A federal law requires the TVA's leadership to be paid salaries comparable to those in the private sector.
Johnson is the second CEO in TVA's history, following Tom Kilgore, who also held the post for six years. Before 2005, the utility was run by a three-member board. Johnson joined TVA from Progress Energy, a Raleigh, N.C.-based utility that was merged in 2012 by Duke Energy.
Johnson was supposed to become the combined company's chief executive, but was ousted shortly before he was to take over. Duke's board later told state investigators that they had concerns about his leadership style.
TVA, however, quickly tapped him afterward to become its leader. The utility praised him for reducing TVA's debt by $3.5 billion, keeping consumer prices down, overseeing clean-air improvements to the Gallatin Fossil Plant and bringing online the Watts Bar Nuclear Unit 2 reactor.
Stephen Smith, Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in a press release today that Johnson's retirement is an "opportunity to put 'public' back in public power."
"Bill Johnson has steered TVA in the direction of serving corporate interests over public interests," wrote Smith, adding that he thinks the utility has been "leaving behind small businesses and households that also want to take advantage of this cleaner, more independent energy choice."
TVA says it's conducting an internal and external search to find Johnson's replacement, a process the utility says will likely take several months.
"We believe it is imperative for the Board to appoint a successor with a demonstrated commitment to and interest in public power values," wrote Smith.