Dennis Lynch strode to the rostrum in the Memphis City Council Chambers well after 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 and pushed once again for more transparency in Memphis, Light, Gas and Water’s electricity bidding process.
His comments, made in a chamber that had just emptied out, were among the few public mentions of the historic bidding that concluded in Memphis this week. The private companies interested in supplying Memphis with electricity faced deadlines of Dec. 6 and Dec. 9 to submit the final bids.
At stake are billions and billions of Shelby Countians’ dollars and control over the electric current that powers a city that remains the backbone of the nation’s economy. If the bids are found to be competitive and confirm what studies have suggested, Memphis could actually leave the Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies it with all of its electricity.
“This needs to be public, not hidden,” said Lynch, the president of the local Sierra Club.
Lynch’s concern about privacy is not isolated. Herman Morris, the former CEO of MLGW and city attorney, also voiced worry. Both want the bids — the documents and prices on proposed natural gas plants, potential solar farms and any other form of electricity that companies think will be attractive to Memphis — unsealed and made public.
Lynch and Morris are likely to be disappointed. J.T. Young, CEO of MLGW, said this week that it’s unlikely the city-of-Memphis-owned utility would unseal the bids until winning vendors had been selected.
“The integrity of the bid process has got to be maintained and one of the things that we want to make sure is that we’re not doing anything in this evaluation process that disrupts the integrity of the process. Those rules were laid out upfront,” Young said.
The public likely won’t know the details of the bidding for at least another six months. According to MLGW bid documents, the utility is scheduled to announce a shortlist of finalists for the two separate bids that were due this week — one for thermal generation and another for renewable electricity generation — in early May.
Finalists are scheduled to make presentations in mid-July and then, if the utility finds a proposal compelling, it could pick winning bidders by next December, a full year from now. Then, if a third bidding process, this one on transmission lines, is successful Memphis could maybe decide to leave TVA in 2023.
All of the final contracts awarded from the bidding would have to be approved by the MLGW board of commissioners and then the Memphis City Council.
Samuel Hardiman covers Memphis city government, politics, energy and environmental topics for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter at @samhardiman.
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