2015 Southeast Coal Roundup – Tennessee Valley Authority

Guest Blog | December 9, 2015 | Coal, Energy Policy
As 2015 draws to a close, we wanted to update you on where our major Southeastern utilities are in terms of decreasing their reliance on dirty, coal-fired power. This blog series is following up on a previous series in 2013. (You can view our previous Southeast Coal Roundup blogs here – Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Company and Duke Energy and other Southeastern utilities).

In the 2015 Southeast Coal Roundup blog series, we are happy to report that the transition away from coal in the Southeast continues – cleaning up our air, water and atmosphere and leaving room for development of more renewable energy generation resources and more robust implementation of energy efficiency measures. Retiring and removing these old, dirty coal units from service will help to improve Southerners’ way of life by improving the overall public health and saving ratepayers from bearing the burden of expensive coal plant retrofit investments.  So gather round the virtual campfire and listen to this first tale of TVA’s progression away from coal.

The Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity to approximately 9 million customers in parts of 7 Southeastern states and is the country’s largest public power provider. Historically, TVA has relied on coal to provide over 60% of its electricity generation (as reported in its 2006 10K).  In its most recent September 2015 10K filing, TVA reported only a 34% reliance on coal-fired power – almost a 50% drop! TVA’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) were reduced 32% between 2005 and 2013 and its CO2 emissions are on track to achieve a 40% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. This puts TVA, and the state of Tennessee, in a good position as utilities and regulators work towards meeting CO2 emission reduction goals mandated by the Clean Power Plan.

Recently, TVA completed its 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a process in which SACE actively engaged as part of the IRP Stakeholder Group and as a member of TVA’s Regional Energy Resource Council. In the 2015 IRP, TVA confirmed that it would go ahead with announced retirements at its Allen (3 units – 990 megawatts, or MW), Johnsonville (10 units – 1485 MW), Colbert (5 units – 1350 MW) and Widows Creek (8 units – 1969 MW) coal plants as well as retiring 2 coal units at its Paradise plant (more on those retirements below). The IRP also recommended that TVA consider retirement of its Shawnee plant in the mid-2020s and of its fully controlled coal units if TVA considers it cost effective.

Retiring the Allen Plant in Memphis

TVA's Allen Plant, located in South Memphis, will retire before the end of 2018.

The TVA Board of Directors approved retirement of all three units at the Allen coal plant, located in Memphis, TN, in August 2014. This decision came after TVA staff conducted an Environmental Assessment (EA) and determined that retirement of the coal units and replacement with a new natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plant was more cost effective than investing in expensive air pollution controls needed to continue operation of the coal plant.

SACE and allies commented on the Allen EA, advocating for a smaller natural gas plant than the size proposed in order to leave room for solar development in the area to help meet local energy demand. In its final EA, TVA recommended building a NGCC plant with 400 MWs less capacity than originally proposed. This is an important victory given that West Tennessee is one of the areas in TVA’s service territory with the best potential for increased solar development.

Retiring all TVA coal power in Alabama

At its November 2013 Board meeting, TVA announced retirement of Widows Creek Unit 8. Units 1-6 at the plant were committed to retire under a 2011 Clean Air Act agreement with EPA and environmental groups. The last operating unit, Unit 7, was announced for retirement earlier this year at TVA’s May 2015 Board meeting. Widows Creek received its last shipment of coal in September. Excitingly, Google announced that it would be buying the old Widows Creek site and building its newest data center on the site, making use of on-site, pre-existing transmission lines. Google will begin construction in 2016 and is working with TVA to ensure that the data center is powered by renewable energy resources.

TVA's Colbert Plant - scheduled to be fully retired by mid-2016.

TVA also announced retirement of all five units at Colbert, its other coal plant in Alabama, at the same November 2013 Board meeting as the Widows Creek Unit 8 announcement. Currently, Colbert Unit 5, the plant’s largest unit, is idled and will be retired no later than December 31, 2015. The remaining four Colbert units will retire no later than April 16, 2016.

Retiring these two plants means TVA will be no longer operating coal plants in Alabama by the middle of next year. This is a huge win for a state that historically is dominated by coal-fired power. Along with the new Northern Alabama Google data plant that will be powered by 100% clean energy, TVA will also be purchasing 80 MW of solar power from a new utility-scale solar plant being built by NextEra Energy near the Colbert coal plant. This new solar farm is projected to generate millions of dollars in economic benefits for the surrounding area.

TVA Coal in Kentucky

In Kentucky, TVA owns and operates the Shawnee and Paradise coal plants. As previously mentioned, Shawnee Unit 10 is retired, while the remaining 9 units continue operation. In one of the more disappointing decisions regarding TVA’s coal fleet, the TVA Board voted to install expensive air pollution controls to Shawnee Units 1 and 4 – at a cost of $185 million. On top of this costly investment, TVA is investing additional money to install less-effective air pollution controls on the 7 remaining Shawnee Units (Units 2,3 and 5-9).

Investing in the continued operation of a 58-year old coal plant like Shawnee seems to make little economic sense in our changing energy market. Especially when you consider that after making significant investments in 2010 in upgrading the air pollution controls at Units 1 and 2 at its Paradise plant, located in Eastern Kentucky, the TVA Board voted to retire those units and replace them with a new NGCC plant in November 2013.

Moving Forward

TVA's Gallatin Coal Plant (Photo compliments of Southern Environmental Law Center - ©Nancy Pierce/Flight by Southwings)

TVA will continue to operate its Cumberland, Gallatin, Bull Run and Kingston coal plants – all located in Tennessee. TVA recently invested $1 billion into the Gallatin plant (4 units – 1225 MW), located north of Nashville, to install modern air pollution controls, known as scrubbers. These upgrades were another one of the requirements that were part of the 2011 Clean Air Act agreement. Along with the new scrubbers, TVA is currently constructing three new landfills on 54 acres that will store the new, dry ash coming from the scrubbers. This will reduce the threat of wet coal ash seeping into surrounding waterbodies – an issue that TVA is currently dealing with at Gallatin.

In November 2014, environmental groups filed a 60-day notice under the Clean Water Act for contamination of groundwater and surface water caused by leaking Gallatin ash ponds. This opened the door for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to pursue enforcement actions against TVA, which it did in January 2015. Additionally, the environmental groups went forward with their own federal Clean Water Act litigation in April 2015. We are hopeful that these actions taken by environmental groups and TDEC will result in the cleanup of contamination around the Gallatin plant. This is especially important given that traces of hexavalent chromium were recently found in drinking wells near Gallatin.

TVA’s Bull Run plant (1 unit – 950 MW) in eastern Tennessee is upgraded with modern air pollution controls and TVA is working on finishing up a conversion to dry ash handling at the plant. TVA had to purchase 24 homes and 155 acres in order to make room for the new dry ash landfills. In recent years, TVA has been scaling back operations at Bull Run, operating a little less than half of the year in 2014.

TVA's Kingston Coal Plant

TVA’s Kingston plant (9 units – 1700 MW), located about 40 minutes west of Knoxville, is also upgraded with modern air pollution controls. TVA recently released environmental impact analysis on its proposed dewatering facility that would allow it to switch to dry ash handling and storage at the plant. SACE, along with allies, submitted comments to TVA regarding its proposed dewatering plans, calling for the use of state-of-the-art technology.  Additionally, SACE has been tracking the permitting process for a new coal ash landfill at Kingston and we remain concerned that the design of that landfill poses a threat to the surrounding waterbodies and environment. (SACE submitted two sets of comments with allies on the new Kingston landfill, which can be viewed here and here).

We are thankful for the support of SACE members as we continue to work to promote clean energy solutions for the Tennessee Valley and further reduce TVA’s reliance on dirty, coal-fired energy.

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