Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) , a corporation owned and operated by the United States government. Its purpose is to promote the unified development of the resources of the Tennessee River Basin, an area that includes parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. TVA's varied activities include water control to prevent floods and improve navigation; production and transmission of electric power; fertilizer research and development; and conservation and recreation programs.

TVA operates 30 major dams and a number of smaller ones. Before these dams were built, the Tennessee Valley was periodically ravaged by floods that caused vast property damage. Today floodwater is held behind the dams in reservoirs. The dams on the main stream form a chain of lakes through which commercial vessels may navigate for 650 miles (1,050 km), from Paducah, Kentucky, to Knoxville, Tennessee.

Production and distribution of electric power is an extremely important function of TVA. TVA owns hydroelectric, nuclear, and coal-fired steam power plants throughout the Tennessee Valley, and is the largest producer of electric power in the United States.

TVA electricity is sold at wholesale rates to independent, publicly owned local power distribution companies, which in turn sell it to consumers. TVA also sells electric power directly to a few large industrial installations and to some large government defense plants.

Before TVA brought power lines to the rural countryside, electricity was not generally available outside the towns and cities of the Tennessee Valley. Providing low-cost electricity greatly improved economic conditions and opportunities in the region and was an important factor in attracting new industries to the Tennessee River Basin.

A chemical plant built during World War I at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, has grown into the National Fertilizer and Environmental Research Center. In cooperation with agricultural colleges and state agencies, TVA sponsors numerous fertilizer testing and demonstration programs in many areas of the United States.

More than half the Tennessee Valley is woodland. TVA works with the valley states to encourage good forest management and to identify markets for their timber.

The creation of lakes by TVA dams has led TVA into the field of outdoor recreation. TVA has set up public parks around many of the lakes to demonstrate methods of conservation and to illustrate that land not suitable for farming or industry can be made useful for public recreation and tourism. Large tracts of lakeshore land have been made available to states and counties for public parks and wildlife refuges.

TVA's resource development activities are financed by Congressional appropriations. The TVA power system is now financed entirely through its earnings and the sale of bonds.

TVA is headed by a board of three directors, appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. The directors serve terms of nine years each, one term expiring every third year. Headquarters are in Knoxville, Tennessee.


In the early 20th century the residents of the Tennessee River Basin, mostly farmers, lived in poverty. Generations of use had destroyed the fertility of their land, and improper farming methods had caused widespread erosion. Frequent floods had devastated cities and farms along the river. During World War I the United States government began building a hydroelectric dam to provide power for a chemical plant in the Tennessee Valley, at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. After the war, Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska advocated that the government operate the facilities to provide electric power and chemical fertilizer for the residents of the valley. Congress twice passed bills providing for government operation of the Muscle Shoals facilities, but both times the bills were killed by Presidential veto. In 1933 the Tennessee Valley Authority was established as part of the Roosevelt administration's New Deal program.

Norris Dam, the first dam built by TVA, was completed in 1936. The system of dams and locks that made the main channel of the river continuously navigable was finished in 1944. During World War II many defense industries were located in the Tennessee Valley because of the availability of cheap power. The United States government established plants and laboratories there that produced materials used in the first atomic bombs.

In its early years, TVA was opposed by people who objected to the expansion of federal authority, as well as by private power companies. In the 1970's, environmentalists objected to TVA's purchase of strip-mined coal and to the air pollution that resulted from burning coal in its power plants. As a result of court battles, TVA has come into compliance with the Clean Air Act and has adopted land reclamation standards that suppliers of strip-mined coal must meet. In the mid-1980's, in an effort to hold down costs, TVA cut back on its program of building new power plants.