To support the Biden Administration’s carbon-free electricity goals the utility must accelerate its future resource plans
Knoxville, Tenn. – The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) applauds the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) expected announcement to retire the agency’s remaining aging coal fleet within the next 15 years. Which energy resources will replace the coal plants has not yet been clarified, and SACE calls on TVA leadership to immediately initiate and update their integrated resource plans (IRP) and begin the proper procedures to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to accelerate the process of retiring coal and ensure their energy mix is compatible with the Biden administration’s call for a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035.
On April 28, TVA’s CEO Jeff Lyash expressed TVA’s intention to retire their remaining coal fleet, saying the five remaining plants will no longer be economical to operate. The TVA development comes just one week after President Biden pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in half by 2030, after calling for the power sector to be fully carbon-free by 2035 earlier this month.
In 2019, the five active coal-fired plants emitted over 26-million tons of carbon. As a federal agency and the nation’s largest public power provider, it’s incumbent on TVA to accelerate the decarbonization of their power grid. A span of 15 years to retire the plants is out of sync with the Biden administration’s goals, and even if the agency fully retires coal, other sources of energy – such as fossil gas – are not carbon-free.
Dr. Stephen A. Smith, SACE Executive Director, said, “TVA’s plan to retire all coal plants is a historic step in the right direction that will save rate-payers money and have a positive impact on the water and air quality in the region. To be clear though, there’s a big difference between being coal-free and being carbon-free, which is the ultimate goal. Recently, SACE called on TVA to play a leading role in guiding the nation toward a low-cost, carbon-free electricity grid by formally setting a target to be a carbon-free power system by 2030, and retiring the remaining coal plants will not be enough to achieve that goal.”
TVA was founded by the TVA Act in 1933 to address the Valley’s most important issues in energy, environmental stewardship, and economic development. Originally a 100% renewable energy powered public utility, decades of TVA’s historic underinvestment in energy efficiency and reliance on expensive coal plants have continued to create a high wholesale power cost, making the TVA territory home to some of the highest energy burdens for bill payers in the country. In addition, excessive carbon emissions caused by decades of burning fossil fuels like coal are contributing to a level of climate change that now poses an existential threat to human life as well as the environment, according to top climate experts.
Smith said, “Retiring the coal plants is a major advancement that opens the door for TVA to utilize renewable energy resources such as solar systems, battery storage, and energy efficiency programs, all of which mitigate the threats of climate change while creating millions of well-paying union jobs, rebuilding our country’s infrastructure, and fueling our much-needed economic recovery. Toward that end, SACE supports TVA working with employees who may be displaced through the coal transition by investing in clean energy power sources that would generate thousands of jobs in TVA’s seven-state region.”
TVA’s five active coal-fired fossil plants expected to be retired include: Shawnee, opened in 1953 in McCracken County, KY; Gallatin, opened in 1956 in Sumner County, TN; Kingston, opened in 1954 in Roane County, TN; Cumberland, opened in 1973 in Stewart County, TN; and Red Hills, opened in 2002 in Choctaw County, MS. The Bull Run Fossil Plant in Anderson County, TN, is also still operational but has had a 2023 retirement date previously announced. At its height in the early 2000s, TVA’s coal fleet included 12 plants (not including contracts). Since 2011, the nation’s largest public utility has retired more than half of its coal fleet. As of 2019, TVA’s generation portfolio had a total capacity of nearly 34,000 megawatts. In the year 2019 TVA’s energy needs were met with 14% coal, 27% fossil gas, 41% nuclear, 13% hydroelectric, 3% wind and solar, and <2% energy efficiency.
The retirement of TVA’s remaining coal fleet is expected to be discussed at the utility’s next Board of Directors meeting on May 6 before an official announcement is made.
Since 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has worked to promote responsible and equitable energy choices to ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.