Big Coal Retirements Announced at TVA Board of Directors Meeting

Guest Blog | November 14, 2013 | Coal, Energy Policy

At today’s Board of Directors’ meeting in Oxford, MS, TVA announced that it will be retiring 3,308 MWs of coal capacity from 3 plants.  SACE welcomes this announcement as it signals a real movement away from dirty, coal-fired energy and toward cleaner, renewable energy across the Tennessee Valley.

It is increasingly clear that coal is no longer a smart business option for utilities and SACE applauds TVA for embracing this reality and committing to this suite of coal retirements.  The coal plant retirements announced today will decrease TVA’s fleet-wide carbon dioxide emissions by more than 15.6 million tons per year.  See our press release about the announcement here.

Each plant and/or coal-fired generation unit in today’s retirement announcements was driven toward retirement by a myriad of factors, both internally and externally.  For starters, TVA’s new CEO, Bill Johnson, is dedicated to moving TVA to a more balanced generation portfolio, aiming to reduce total coal reliance to only 20% of its total generation capacity.  Additionally, changes in the economics of coal plants have made them an increasingly bad investment for utilities, including the costs of significant investments in pollution controls needed to comply with future environmental regulations, which are daunting, more competitive renewable generation and energy efficiency options, as well as increases in the costs of coal and decreases in the cost of natural gas.  Let’s take a look at each plant to understand more about why retirement is the best option.

Widows Creek – Stevenson, AL

Widows Creek Coal Plant

Although Units 1-6 at TVA’s Widows Creek plant were committed to retire under the 2011 Consent Decree, Unit 8 could have continued operation under the terms of the EPA agreement because it is equipped with a scrubber as well as emission controls for other harmful air pollutants.  Although TVA has made concerted efforts to reduce the impact to air quality from operations at Widows Creek, the same cannot be said in regards to the handling of coal ash and reduction of water quality impacts.  TVA has decided to keep Unit 7 at Widows Creek online for now, though the future of this sole, remaining unit is still uncertain.

Less than 3 weeks after the 2008 Kingston coal ash disaster almost 10,000 gallons of toxic coal ash spilled out of the plant’s coal ash impoundments and into Widows Creek, a tributary of the Tennessee River.  This ash was comprised of mostly gypsum, which often contains levels of harmful toxins, like boron, cadmium and selenium, that is harmful not only to wildlife but can also cause cancer as well as reproductive and neurological problems in humans.  Currently, there are more than 7.3 billion gallons of coal ash stored on site at the Widows Creek plant. With today’s announcement, we look forward to the retirement of all but Unit 7 of the Widows Creek plant but also to the remediation of legacy coal ash contamination. We hope that Unit 7 will soon be announced for retirement as well.

TVA's Colbert Plant

Colbert – Tuscumbia, AL

Although TVA announced idling of all 5 units of the Colbert earlier this year, it had until 2016 to make a final decision concerning the future of the plant.  By announcing Colbert’s retirement ahead of schedule, TVA is signaling to other utilities that it is possible to move away from dirty, coal-fired energy while still maintaining a healthy business model.  By ceasing operations at Colbert, TVA will be removing more than 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, further decreasing TVA’s contribution to climate change causing pollution.

Like all of TVA’s coal plants, the Colbert plant has a negative effect on the surrounding water quality – both to surface and groundwaters.  Earlier this year SACE was part of a larger group effort notifying TVA of Clean Water Act violations caused by coal ash management at the Colbert plant.  Ash impoundments at the Colbert plant were leaching dangerous toxins into adjacent water bodies.  We are hopeful that TVA will address these coal ash contamination issues as they cease operations of the Colbert plant.  There are currently more than 2.3 billion gallons of coal ash stored at the Colbert plant.  There is no doubt, however, that today’s announcements are big steps toward a cleaner, healthier environment for the people of Northern Alabama.

TVA's Paradise Plant

Paradise – Drakesboro, KY

One of the more exciting and surprising announcements from today’s Board meeting is the plan to retire Units 1 and 2 at TVA’s Paradise plant. This 50 year old plant is one of TVA’s more updated plants.  In fact, TVA invested in upgrades to the scrubbers on Units 1 and 2 in 2012.  Despite these significant investments, TVA has decided that it is not in its economic interest to continue to invest in keeping these units operational due to the further pollution control investments needed to keep these units running and in compliance with environmental regulations.

In August of this year, TVA released a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Protection Act analyzing the impacts of either the addition of pollution control for particulate matter emissions or retirement of Units 1 and 2 and replacement with a natural gas plant.  SACE, along with partner groups, submitted comments on the Draft EA voicing our support for the retirement of these two coal-fired units.  We applaud today’s announced retirement of these units, which is an important step in loosening the choke-hold coal-fired power has long had on the state of Kentucky.

This is truly an historic day for TVA and those of us who make our home in the Tennessee Valley.  TVA is heading toward a future where its coal capacity represents a mere 20% of their generation portfolio, down from a historic high of more than 60% reliance on coal.  As one of the longest watchdogs of TVA, SACE is excited to see TVA reducing its reliance on coal and moving towards a cleaner energy economy.

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