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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Light, Gas and Water continues to explore the possibility of leaving the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring cheaper rates and better reliability to customers.

On Wednesday, the MLGW Board moved forward with plans to evaluate electricity provider alternatives to the TVA, a move they say will help customers get the best deal for their utilities. It also considers building a way for Memphis to generate its own power.

The MLGW board approved an up-to $520,000 contract Wednesday with GDS Associates, a Georgia-based firm that will work to compile the different bids and present the information to MLGW and Memphis City Council

But the process has been marred by disagreements and delays, with Council and MLGW at odds over whether and how to move forward. 

More recently, MLGW CEO J.T. Young announced he’d prefer to focus on infrastructure rather than electricity.  The MLGW Board overruled him.

Councilwoman Patrice Robinson said the renewed interest on suppliers stems from the recent electricity crisis in surrounding states during a rare winter snowstorm. Given the rocky past, she said she has no idea what to expect when the decision to approve the contract comes before council Tuesday.

“Be patient with us. We’re learning. This is a very complicated situation,” she said.

According to its website, GDS Associates employs more than 40 people. Of those employees, just two are women and none are African Americans. When asked if that meets council’s expectations for working with employers that value diversity, Robinson said no, but acknowledged diversity is a challenge throughout the energy industry.

GDS Associates Vice President Seth Brown added his company has a total of 190 employees around the country, with 80 being women and minorities. Of the firm’s partners, he said three are women and one is a minority. He did not provide details about the levels and positions of the other 76 women and minority employees.

In the last three years, 70 percent of new hires have been women and minorities, Brown said. He did not provide specifics about their roles.

In a statement released Wednesday, TVA officials said they respect MLGW’s evaluation process, but believe their services still provide the best value for Memphis customers.