SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Tennessee Valley Authority Coal

TVA's Widows Creek plant (AL)

TVA’s Widows Creek plant (AL)

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provides power to 9 million people in seven Southeastern states. TVA generates electricity from a number of different energy generation sources including coal, renewables, hydroelectric, nuclear and natural gas. Coal has historically been the single largest source in TVA’s energy portfolio. In 2010, around 51% of TVA’s electricity came from coal. Thanks to a number of factors, in the last quarter of 2013 only 43% of TVA’s electricity was generated from coal. As of September 2013, TVA operates 46 active coal-fired electric generating units spread over 10 coal-fired power plants.

Although the exact numbers change from year to year based on factors such as energy demand, fuel prices and water availability, as of the end of 2013, coal accounts for about 62,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity produced by TVA.

TVA’s entire coal fleet consists of the following plants:

  • Allen (Memphis, TN): 3 boilers, 744 MW, built in 1959
  • Bull Run (Anderson Co., TN): 1 boiler, 879 MW, built in 1967
  • Colbert (Colbert, AL): 5 boilers, 1,179 MW, built in 1955-1965
  • Cumberland (Stewart Co., TN): 2 boilers, 2,448 MW, built in 1973
  • Gallatin (Sumner Co., TN): 4 boilers, 976 MW, built in 1956-1959
  • John Sevier (Rogersville, TN): 4 boilers, 704 MW, built in 1955-1957
  • Johnsonville (New Johnsonville, TN): 10 boilers, 1,206 MW, built in 1951-1959
  • Kingston (Kingston, TN): 9 boilers, 1,434 MW, built in 1954-1955
  • Paradise (Paradise, KY): 3 boilers, 2,169 MW, built in 1963-1970
  • Shawnee (Paducah, KY): 10 boilers, 1,330 MW, built in 1953-1957 and 1989
  • Widows Creek (Stevenson, AL): 8 boilers, 1,610 MW, built in 1952-1965


Coal is one of the oldest and dirtiest sources of energy. While reliance on coal historically kept power rates low, the true cost of coal is undervalued. When we account for the human health and environmental damages associated with mining coal, mountain top removal, transportation of coal from mine to plant, air pollution, water quality degradation and coal waste storage, the true cost of coal is extraordinary. In 2012 alone, TVA coal plants emitted more than 71 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, fueling the increasingly dangerous problem of global warming.

Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee all appear in the list of the top 15 states for worst coal health impacts. Combined, there are 826 hospitalizations, 1,556 heart attacks and 1,207 deaths related to pollution from coal plants each year according to a report released in 2010 by the Clean Air Task Force. The economic cost of hospital bills, missed work, missed school and ongoing health care is very high, but is rarely considered when balancing the costs of coal.

Since the 2008 Kingston coal ash disaster, TVA’s handling of its coal ash waste has continued to be haphazard. A recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project, entitled “TVA’s Toxic Legacy: Groundwater Contaminated by Tennessee Valley Authority Coal Ash,” documents contamination caused by coal ash impoundments at all 11 of TVA’s coal plants. Although TVA has stated that it would convert its wet-ash impoundments to dry-handling ash impoundments, there is no clear deadline for this work to be completed.


Luckily, TVA is beginning to recognize the true costs of its reliance on coal power and is starting the process of shutting down dirty coal-fired generation units. In April 2011 TVA entered into a Consent Decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as several states and public interest groups, and agreed to either retire or retrofit a significant number of its coal-fired generating units.

In this Consent Decree, TVA committed to full retirement of Units 1 – 6 at Widows Creek, all 10 units at Johnsonville and at least two units, but possibly all four units, at John Sevier. Additionally, under the terms of the agreement, TVA had to decide whether to retire or clean up additional units at its Allen, Gallatin, Shawnee and Colbert plants. TVA has already decided to install pollution controls on the Gallatin plant at a $1 billion cost to ratepayers, although environmental groups are challenging this decision.

At a November 2013 TVA Board of Directors meeting, TVA announced that it would be retiring all 5 units at Colbert, Unit 8 at Widows Creek and Units 1 and 2 at its Paradise plant in Kentucky. Although no clear retirement timeline was approved for these units, TVA is on a clear path to a less carbon-intensive energy portfolio. At this same Board meeting, TVA’s new CEO, Bill Johnson, unveiled an “aspirational” goal that would reduce TVA’s coal capacity to a mere 20% of its total generation capacity. We will continue to work with TVA to phase out old, dirty coal plants and look forward to a cleaner, healthier energy economy in the Tennessee Valley.