TVA picks Canadian utility chief as CEO

Jeffrey Lyash will become the new president and CEO of Tennessee Valley Authority, probably in April.

His hiring was announced Thursday at TVA’s board meeting in Chattanooga.

Lyash is currently president and CEO of government-owned Ontario Power Generation Inc. and chairman of the international nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute.

“I am excited about the opportunity to lead TVA, an organization with a great sense of purpose not only to provide reliable, low-cost energy, which is a critical underpinning for how we live, but to improve the lives of people of the Tennessee Valley and the United States through economic development and environmental stewardship,” he said in a TVA news release.

Outgoing president and CEO Bill Johnson, in charge of TVA since November 2012, announced in November he would retire in the first half of 2019.

On Thursday, Johnson said he would have a “good transition time” of overlap with Lyash, but didn’t indicate how much.

The management change could signal a major shift in TVA’s priorities. While its dependence on coal generation has steadily declined, activists have pressed it to do more in promoting renewable energy, particularly solar power.

Lyash has been in charge of Ontario Power Generation since July 2015. The public utility company provides more than half of the Canadian province’s power. And it phased out coal generation in 2014, now relying on water, nuclear and solar power for generation that’s 99 percent free of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the company.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, praised Lyash’s hiring in an emailed statement.

“Mr. Lyash is inheriting the leadership of the Tennessee Valley Authority at a time when TVA is doing a good job of filling its responsibility to produce large amounts of reliable clean electricity at the lowest cost to ratepayers,” Alexander’s statement says. “He appears to be well-qualified for the position, and I look forward to working with him in appropriate ways as the United States Senate provides oversight of the agency’s operations.”

Who is Jeffrey Lyash?

Lyash, a 57-year-old Pennsylvania native, has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Drexel University. He entered the power industry in 1981 at Pennsylvania Power & Light, then worked for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1984 to 1993.

Early in that period he spent nearly a year on loan to TVA, as an engineer at its Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.

Lyash worked up through plant management at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant in North Carolina, then rose in executive ranks at utilities in the Southeast.

The Toronto Star reported Lyash made $1.5 million per year in 2015 at Ontario Power, making him the highestpaid government employee in the province.

He’ll make much more than that at TVA, though he won’t equal outgoing president and CEO Johnson.

Johnson, 65, has been TVA president and CEO since November 2012. At $8.1 million in total annual compensation, he’s the highest-paid federal employee. Johnson is potentially eligible for a $12.8 million payout on his departure.

Base pay of $920K, plus millions in incentives

Lyash's initial compensation is laid out in a required filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. He will will get base pay of $920,000 with a possible annual executive incentive of nearly $1.4 million. He’ll be eligible for part of that incentive this year if he starts work by June 30.

Starting Oct. 1 of this year he will be eligible for a $2 million grant for the three-year performance cycle ending in 2021, and another $2 million for the cycle ending in 2022.

Under a retention program, if he stays through Sept. 30, 2022, he’ll get another $876,000. Should Lyash stay at TVA for five years, he’ll be credited for 15 years’ service in the executive retirement plan.

He’ll get nearly $1.8 million in “recruitment and relocation incentive,” to be paid in three installments through Sept. 30, 2021. Finally, he’s to receive a sign-on bonus of $380,000.

The job offer was extended Feb. 4 and accepted Feb. 5; Lyash is expected on board no later than Aug. 14.

“The TVA position is attractive – particularly at this juncture,” TVA Board Chairman Richard Howorth said in a news release. “The progress that Bill Johnson has accomplished with TVA has been remarkable to witness. His leadership and guidance have put TVA on a clear path of continuous improvement – momentum that I believe Jeff Lyash will enjoy carrying further. It is now about creating and leading the next long-range plan to address industry challenges and meet consumer demands.”

TVA used the McAulay Smith executive search firm, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, to find candidates, Howorth said Thursday. That’s the same firm which brought in Johnson, who is from North Carolina.

“Jeff Lyash rose to the top of a strong pool of candidates eager to come to TVA due to his strong utility experience, passion for the public power mission of service and ability to engage employees, customers and communities,” Howorth said in the news release.

He said McAulay Smith provided about 40 candidates, and a small number of finalists went through two rounds of board interviews.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, the board also picked James “Skip” Thompson as its chairman for the next two years.

He’ll take over from Howorth when the latter’s term expires in May. Thompson, a banker from Decatur, Alabama, is an appointee of President Donald Trump.

Thompson joined the board in January 2018, and his term runs until May 2021.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit

Published February 15, 2019