TVA’s new chief is focused on the future. Here’s how we can make it bright

Originally published by The Chattanooga Times Free Press

By: Mary Beth Hudson, TAEBC Board Member

It’s been just over a month since he’s taken over the reins of the Tennessee Valley Authority, but new CEO Jeffrey Lyash is already focused on the future.

He’s committed to prioritizing “what is needed in the long run” when making strategic investments and changes to meet the changing environmental and economic landscape, Lyash told the Times Free Press recently. “The public power model in the valley will allow us to think about what is best over time for all of our customers,” he said.

The answer to what’s best, whether for TVA, its customers, business development, or every-day Tennesseans, is the same: advanced energy.

Advanced energy may be a booming $1.4 trillion global market, but it’s intimately linked to the welfare, employment, and economic prospects of all Tennesseans.

Our state has exploded as a powerplayer in advanced energy innovation over the last decade, thanks in large part to the unique set of assets that make it a triple-threat: TVA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and business-friendly regulations and workforce. The sector drives approximately $39.7 billion to state Gross Domestic Product, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) found in its 2018 economic impact report. It’s growing even more rapidly than the overall state economy, employing close to 360,000 Tennesseans in generally higher-paid positions than the state average annual wage.

In our backyard here in Chattanooga, the advanced energy industry drives more than $1.5 billion in annual payroll to more than 31,142 local workers.

I’m fortunate to count myself among the advanced energy employees, as vice president of Wacker Polysilicon NCA and site manager of the Charleston plant, where we manufacture the polysicion that forms the base material for solar power panels. Support of advanced energy is critical for international corporations like Wacker – the growing drive for sustainability and access to non-traditional energy sources is becoming a prerequisite in companies’ site-selection decision-making process. Wacker just invested an additional $150 million into expanding its $2.5 billion plant in Charleston – but expansions like these and new recruitment of businesses to the state hinges upon whether we continue to invest in advanced energy.

But beyond economic and workforce development, investment in advanced energy should be a no-brainer for TVA for a more simple reason: It’s the future of energy – whether we embrace it or not.

From a long-term sustainability standpoint, the fact is that resources like fossil fuels are limited and won’t last forever. Instead of burning natural gas at large centralized power plants, producing CO2 emissions in the process and wasting the carbon molecules on a single use, we should be preserving these finite resources. Carbon molecules are the building blocks of plastics manufacturing, necessary to make higher-end items such as medical products including replacement heart valves, implants and prosthetics. Prioritizing advanced energy allows us to store fossil fuels such as natural gas, creating an asset that drives the nation’s manufacturing economy with the production of advanced materials.

We should all be encouraged by Lyash’s words embracing the challenges and opportunities of the energy landscape of the future. That future is advanced energy, and whether Tennessee advances as an economic powerhouse and epicenter of advanced energy innovation, or gets left behind in irrelevancy, is in TVA’s hands. If Lyash follows through on his word, then our future is bright.

 Mary Beth Hudson is vice president of Wacker Polysilicon in the Americas, site manager of Wacker’s Charleston, Tennessee plant and a board member of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

Wacker Polysilicon talks expansion, company history during TAEBC Energy Connect event

Wacker Polysilicon welcomed more than a dozen people to its facility to talk about the company’s history and its upcoming expansion during TAEBC’s summer Energy Connect event.

Mary Beth Hudson, Vice President of Wacker Polysilicon NA, Charleston Site Manager and TAEBC Board Member provided a keynote address giving those who attended insight into the global chemical company.

With a portfolio of hyper-pure polysilicon for semiconductor and photovoltaic applications, Wacker ranks among the world’s leading manufacturers in this field, offering customers comprehensive, solution-oriented expertise. Wacker’s Charleston, Tennessee facility, which started production of hyper-pure polysilicon in early 2016, represents a $2.5 billion commitment to state of the art, high value added manufacturing in the United States. According to Mary Beth Hudson, Vice President and Site Manager, Wacker is proud of its 650+ employees and 20,000+ metric tons annual manufacturing capability.

Mary Beth also commented that in addition to the Polysilicon plant, the company is excited about its recently announced $150 million investment and addition of some 50 full-time jobs to build a pyrogenic silica plant adjacent to the existing plant. This represents Wacker’s strategic business plan to expand its global footprint in the United States, the world’s second largest chemical market.

“Our vision is to expand our Tennessee plant further, boosting our U.S. production, exports, and jobs while contributing to and supporting the advanced energy sector,” said Mary Beth.

TAEBC Annual Meeting welcomes new board members, talks of 2017 energy opportunities

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council hosted its Annual Meeting Wednesday in Nashville.

During the meeting, it was announced Mary Beth Hudson, Vice President Wacker Polysilicon NCA and Charleston, Tenn. Site Manager as well as Ryan Stanton, Program Leader Smart Cities and Urban Infrastructure at Schneider Electric would serve as TAEBC’s new board members.

Ryan fills Jim Plourde’s board term, as Jim has accepted a new position as Director of Energy Solutions at Powersmiths, a Canadian company that provides products and services that deliver energy and cost savings opportunities to customers.

TAEBC thanks Jim for his service and extends our congratulations on this new position. He’ll continue to be engaged with TAEBC championing advanced energy as an economic development and job creation strategy. Thank you, Jim for your leadership during TAEBC’s formative years.

TAEBC would also like to thank Jimmy Glotfelty of Clean Line Energy Partners and Tom Rogers and Beth Conerty of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Innovation Crossroads for speaking during the annual meeting. Members enjoyed hearing more about 2017’s energy outlook and opportunities.

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council thanks member Bradley for hosting the annual meeting and providing a venue.

TAEBC’s continued success and growth is credited to its members as we look ahead to 2017.

Previous Story: Looking back on TAEBC’s 2016 accomplishments & what’s to come

TAEBC is positioning the state and its members to increase our leadership role in the $1.3 trillion global advanced energy market. In order to do this, TAEBC is focused on four goals in the New Year.

TAEBC wants to reinforce our commitment to our members and stakeholders:

  • Inform the national energy agenda.
  • Help Tennessee become the #1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.
  • Foster the growth of Tennessee advanced energy technologies and startups.
  • Support TVA’s efforts to become the utility of the future.