TVA Announces Old Coal Retirements

Stephen Smith | August 24, 2010 | Energy Policy

Last Friday the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced a new vision for its energy portfolio at their August Board meeting. (We will be blogging on this in more detail soon.)

TVA CEO Tom Kilgore expressed the hope that TVA will become “one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost and cleaner energy by 2020”. One of the goals of this new direction is to become the nation’s leader in air quality improvements. A significant first step was TVA’s announcement that it would retire 1,000 MW of old coal plants by 2015.600px-us-tennesseevalleyauthority-logosvg

Today TVA announced further details of its old-coal retirement plans. Within the next four to five years TVA will idle six units at its Widows Creek plant in Stevenson, Alabama, one unit at its Shawnee plant in Paducah, Kentucky and two units at the John Sevier plant in Rogersville, Tennessee. This accounts for 1,000 MW out of TVA’s approximate 15,000 MW of coal-power generation.

Units 1-6 at Widows Creek will be retired in tiers, with the first two units to shut down in 2011 and the remaining four to retire in the following four to five years. Most of these units were built between 1952 and 1954.   All six of these units lack advanced environmental controls.

TVA's Widows Creek Coal Plant in Stevenson, AL
TVA's Widows Creek Coal Plant in Stevenson, AL

Shawnee unit 10 was built in 1956 and also does not have advanced environmental controls. In addition, Shawnee unit 10 has a heat rate of over 11,000 btu/KwH. Heat rate is a measure of plant efficiency and generally a rate above 10,000 is considered inefficient. This unit is now planned for retirement in 2011.  TVA did state that they will evaluate it for possible conversion to biomass-based energy generation.

TVA's Shawnee Coal Plant in Paducha, KY
TVA's Shawnee Coal Plant in Paducah, KY

TVA has not identified specific units at the John Sevier plant. However, John Sevier has four units, all with similar statistics. All units went online in the mid 1950s, are without advanced control technologies and have a capacity of 200 MW. Two of these units are targeted to come offline in the next four to five years.

Although they have announced these specific retirements, TVA acknowledged still relying on a significant number of old coal plants without advanced environmental technology. Even with today’s announced retirements, an additional 6,000 MW of uncontrolled coal will remain. TVA claims to be reviewing this 6,000 MW and evaluating whether to retire, convert to alternative generation, or to install advance environmental controls.

TVA's John Seveir Coal Plant in Rogersville, TN
TVA's John Seveir Coal Plant in Rogersville, TN

SACE strongly supports today’s  announcement. This is a significant move within TVA. As we stated in an earlier blog post, this is long overdue, the human health and environmental impacts of these largely uncontrolled  facilities has been enormous. I expect TVA’s ongoing work on their Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) will lead to additional announcements. As a member of the Stakeholder Review Group we are reviewing IRP modeling runs for future generation mix strategies that range from 2000- 7000 MWs of coal retirements. I believe that TVA is seriously looking at a 3000-5000 MW retirement window. Today’s announcement is an important down payment on these goals. The TVA IRP will be out in draft in late September and the target is for a final recommendation in early 2011.

The bottom line today is that our mountains, rivers and lungs can look forward to a day, in the near future, where less coal will be mined and shipped to be burned in the Tennessee Valley, causing less air and global warming pollution. This is a good thing!

Josh Galperin contributed to this post.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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