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
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 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.
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 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.