TVA Announces Plans to Idle Colbert Coal Plant Units

Guest Blog | July 8, 2013 | Coal, Energy Policy
Colbert Fossil Station in Tuscumbia, Alabama

UPDATE: On July 15, 2013, TVA determined that Colbert Unit 5 will be idled on October 1, 2013.  Unit 5  was previously planned to idle in October 2014.  We applaud TVA’s acceleration of the idling of Unit 5 and will continue to advocate for full retirement of all 5 units at the Colbert plant.  TVA announced idling of Unit 5 in its August 2013 SEC 10-Q filing.

Under the terms of a 2011 Consent Decree, TVA recently announced plans to idle units 1-4 at its Colbert coal plant located in Tuscumbia, AL starting June 30, 2016. Idling, or removing from service, these four units is a pivotal first step in what we hope will be the full retirement of this plant; ensuring that these coal-fired units are never returned to service.  We are hopeful that TVA’s decision to idle these units rather than retrofit is evidence that TVA will announce full retirement of this plant in its next Integrated Resource Plan.

The 2011 Consent Decree arose from consolidated litigation brought by several states and environmental groups and an administrative compliance order issued by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the Clean Air Act.  Under the Consent Decree, TVA was required to notify EPA and the other parties of its plan for controlling air pollution from units 1-4 at Colbert by June 30, 2013.  On June 28, TVA notified EPA that it would be idling, or removing from service, units 1-4 at the plant rather than investing in expensive air pollution control equipment that would allow the plant to continue operation once new EPA air regulations take effect.

Idling these units serves as an important step in cleaning up the air in Alabama, the region, and has global implications with a huge carbon footprint.  According to EPA data, these four units emitted 3,267,094 tons of carbon dioxide, 11,120 tons of sulfur dioxide and 6,399 tons of nitrogen oxide in 2012.  What’s more, rather than retrofitting these units with air pollution controls, ceasing operation of these four units will mean that millions of gallons of toxic coal ash will not be produced and stored precariously on site.  Currently, the Colbert plant’s coal ash ponds hold more than 2.3 billion tons of coal ash. (To learn more about coal ash at Colbert and across the Southeast, visit our  SACE, along with partner groups, filed a notice of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act for ongoing violations at Colbert that have caused toxins to leak from coal ash ponds into the surrounding waterways.  Additionally, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) recently filed suit against TVA for pollution from Colbert’s coal ash ponds and the parties have since reached an agreement for TVA to address some of the sources of these pollution problems.

With 4 of the 5 units at Colbert idling, it appears that TVA is heading towards complete retirement of this almost 60 year old plant.  The 5th unit at the plant has been operating at a reduced capacity, only running 15% of the year in 2012.  Although TVA retains the option of retrofitting all 5 units with updated pollution controls and bringing these units back to full operations at a later date, doing so would mean significant capital investments for TVA – money that TVA really can’t afford to spend.

Over the years, SACE  has played an integral part in working with TVA’s Board of Directors and staff to illustrate the importance of increasing its renewable generation sources and implementing robust energy efficiency measures in order to decrease its reliance on dirtier and more expensive forms of electrical generation, such as coal-fired power plants. SACE has over 25 years of experience working directly with TVA to reform its generation portfolio, including involvement in TVA’s 2011 Integrated Resource Plan planning process and serving on the IRP Stakeholder Review Group.  TVA’s next IRP’s planning process has been sped up and will begin in the fall of 2013.  This acceleration of the next IRP is evidence that the utility is aware of the changing landscape regarding energy generation and we look forward on working with TVA to develop a cleaner, affordable generation fleet without Colbert on the roster.  We will continue to advocate for decreased reliance on coal across TVA’s entire service territory and to push the utility toward increased investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

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