Utility Eyes Cumberland Coal Plant Retirement For Gas Build Out
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — As the Tennessee Valley Authority considers retiring its largest coal plant, the Clean Up TVA coalition urged the agency today to revisit its proposed gas expansion and instead invest in renewable energy such as distributed energy, storage and energy efficiency. They argued that TVA’s investment in gas runs contrary to the Biden Administration’s clean energy mandate, climate science and the agency’s own stated commitment to improve Valley residents’ quality of life through job creation, reduced emissions, and lower energy prices.
TVA is currently conducting an environmental impact statement (EIS) for retirement and replacement of its Cumberland Fossil Plant. In the recently released draft EIS, the agency recommends replacing the coal plant with a new 1,450 megawatt Combined Cycle (CC) gas plant that would require the construction of a 32-mile pipeline. The draft EIS suggests the CC plant is “beneficial” for advancing the agency’s response to climate change, but the coalition highlights TVA’s flawed rationale. TVA estimates the CC plant would only reduce carbon emissions by 1% compared to a solar and storage alternative.
“Climate change is already causing tremendous suffering in the U.S. and around the world with more extreme weather events, devastating wildfires, and drought,” said Rev. Paul Slentz with Tennessee Interfaith Power & Light. “Those impacts will only worsen unless measures are taken to rapidly reduce the climate-disrupting greenhouse gas emissions caused by fossil fuels. As people of faith, we join this call for TVA to help lead the fight against climate change by rejecting the greenhouse gas emitting methane option and instead choosing solar power, storage, efficiencies, and related clean energy measures.”
“TVA has put all their eggs in one basket,” said Marquita Bradshaw, executive director with Sowing Justice. “Their eagerness for gas may make the fossil fuel industry and pipeline companies happy, but it’s not what customers want. Gas is a risky option that would saddle customers with decades more of price volatility, pollution, and energy insecurity. This is an environmental and energy justice issue, and TVA needs to do what’s in communities’ best interests. That means no more fossil fuels and yes to clean, renewable, resilient energy like rooftop solar.”
The agency also considered replacing the Cumberland plant with either a new Combustion Turbine gas plant or 1,700 megawatts of new solar and storage. The environmental review notes that a new gas plant would allow for the future integration of 10,000 megawatts of solar by 2035 as well as accelerate the retirement of the Cumberland coal-fired units. However, the agency has not presented a clear trajectory for how it intends to achieve this.
TVA has the second highest planned gas development of all major utilities with 4 gigawatts of new gas capacity by 2030. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spoke to the urgent need for a transition away from fossil fuels. Leading scientists have urged countries like the United States to end coal use by 2030 and gas by 2031 for a decent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to the DEIS, TVA would not complete retirement of the Cumberland units till 2033 and would continue to rely on gas well into the next decade.
“TVA is being horrifically irresponsible,” said Sudeep Ghantasala with the Sunrise Movement Nashville chapter. “The permitting process for the gas pipeline started months ago. TVA claims this was to speed up the process should they pick the gas CC plant. Why haven’t they started the same process for the solar alternative, and better yet, looked at distributed solar, energy efficiency, and demand response which could come on board sooner and even reduce demand for large-scale projects? Climate change is threatening so many lives and TVA needs to act.”
Natural gas market volatility has pushed local power utilities, like Middle Tennessee Electric, to raise prices. TVA generates about 25% of its electricity by burning natural gas. Despite this reality, TVA is choosing to make huge new, long-term investments in an uncertain gas market – the opposite of its claimed goal of working to keep energy costs low for customers.
“As TVA continues to push for methane gas expansion, this falls under the NAACP Fossil Foolery list that sheds light on the deceptive tactics used by fossil fuel conglomerates and their supporters at the expense of communities most affected by their pollution,” said Pearl Eva Walker with the Memphis NAACP. “TVA continues to deny or understate the harms polluting facilities cause to people and the environment. They also praise false solutions while claiming that real solutions are impractical, impossible, or harmful for BIPOC and poor communities. TVA is slow to accept responsibility, but we’re not fooled, and that is why we must empower communities most affected by climate change to network resources and develop community-driven strategies to address it.”
TVA is a federally owned corporation and the country’s largest public power provider. It generates electricity for more than 10 million customers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
The Clean Up TVA coalition is committed to transforming TVA into a green utility by shutting down coal plants, preventing new fossil gas development, and accelerating a just transition to fossil fuel-free, distributed renewable, affordable, and democratic energy for all communities and workers in the Tennessee Valley.