TVA seeks to replace its largest coal-fired power plant with cleaner natural gas production

America’s largest utility is looking to replace its largest coal-fired power plant with more energy-efficient and cleaner natural gas generation to meet the electricity needs of more than 1.1 million homes in Tennessee and Kentucky .

The Tennessee Valley Authority released a draft environmental report on Monday that recommended the best alternative for its aging Cumberland Fossil Plant in Cumberland City, Tennessee, is to shut down the two-unit coal plant and replace it with a production facility. combined cycle natural gas. .

But environmental groups are urging TVA to abandon all fossil fuel use in Cumberland to help meet US climate control goals, including President Biden’s pledge that the country’s electric industry be carbon-free over the next few years. next 13 years.

“Today’s proposal is another indication that TVA is ready to move beyond coal, but could get stuck in the past with gas,” said Amy Kelly, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign representative. in Tennessee, in a statement after VAT. environmental study has been published. “One less coal-fired plant in the Tennessee Valley means cleaner air, safer water and progress toward reducing climate-disrupting emissions, but replacing coal with another fossil-gas plant just doesn’t make sense. economic and environmental.

TVA officials insist that natural gas can be “a cleaner deck fuel” essential to maintaining the reliability of electricity when the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing or nuclear units and TVA’s hydroelectric plants are out of service. TVA said it has reduced its carbon emissions by 57% since 2005, nearly double the industry average, and continues to reduce its carbon emissions while maintaining its electricity delivery reliability at 99.999%.

The 478-page TVA study released on Monday — and expected to be officially published in the Federal Register on Friday — said Cumberland’s coal-fired generators are becoming less efficient and generate pollution too costly for TVA. The coal-fired plants northwest of Nashville were built between 1968 and 1973 and are capable of producing 2,470 megawatts of electricity,

Although TVA installed wet limestone scrubbers and a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system to limit Cumberland’s sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions, the plant remains one of the biggest air polluters in the country. , releasing more than 8 million tons of carbon pollution into the air each year.

The planned closure of the Cumberland plant and a similar ongoing study of the closure of the Kingston fossil plant follow TVA’s previous closures over the past decade of its coal-fired John Sevier, Widows Creek, Colbert, Allen and Paradise.

“The aging coal fleet is one of the oldest in the nation and is experiencing deteriorating material condition and performance issues,” the environmental study said of TVA’s coal unit fleet. , which once comprised 59 units that provided nearly two-thirds of TVA’s electricity production. . “The continued long-term operation of some of TVA’s coal-fired plants, including the Cumberland Fossil Generating Station, contributes to environmental, economic and reliability risks.”

Of the four alternatives considered by TVA for the Cumberland plant, the preferred option is to replace most of the plant’s output with a combined cycle natural gas plant, which is more efficient and emits much less carbon dioxide and sulfur than the coal-fired units they will replace. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said Monday that TVA expects it will need to continue to generate electricity for the region served by Cumberland, especially as more and more transportation customers and industry are electrifying cars and machinery now powered by gasoline, propane and natural gas.

TVA will be accepting public comments on its new draft environmental statement until June 13 and will host three meetings on Cumberland’s future that will be open to the public in May.

TVA will release a similar draft environmental study on its coal-fired Kingston plant later this summer, Brooks said.

TVA proposes to withdraw one of the Cumberland units as early as 2026 and no later than 2030 and to close the other unit by 2033. TVA has set itself the objective of reducing its total carbon emissions by 80% below the 2005 levels by 2035 by phasing out the last of the 59 coal-fired units operated by TVA.

The Sierra Club said that if TVA chose to build new methane gas plants and pipelines, they would be obsolete in just 10 years due to TVA’s own carbon reduction commitments, leaving TVA taxpayers forced to foot the bill for factories that cannot be used.

“Replacing the Cumberland coal plant with gas is a throwback to a time when there were no better options available,” JoAnn McIntosh, a Sierra Club volunteer who lives in Clarksville near Cumberland Generating Station. and storage can now provide that alternative energy as reliably and more economically than gas, and without the environmental impacts that make our world less and less livable for us and our children.”

Environmental groups are urging the US Senate to confirm four new directors to TVA’s board. President Joe Biden’s nominees include three longtime environmental activists who should be more wary of building any new generation of fossil fuels.

The Senate could vote on the four nominees next month, but TVA already appears to be moving toward gas-fired generation, at least in part, for the Cumberland plant.

Last November, TVA’s board delegated decision on future alternatives for the Cumberland and Kingston coal-fired plants to CEO Jeff Lyash, and the board allocated $3.5 billion for the gas-fired generation, according to TVA’s annual financial report filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Independent of TVA’s review, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC, a Kinder Morgan, Inc. company, has also submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to construct a 32-mile gas pipeline to the site. from the Cumberland plant to supply the new gas-fired generation project. According to the proposal submitted last October, the pipeline company would build a 30-inch lateral from the existing Kinder Morgan line in Dickson County, Tennessee, to supply up to 245,000 decatherms per day of natural gas transmission. additional for VAT in Cumberland.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.

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