TVA moving away from coal-fired power
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Tennessee Valley Authority has agreed to shutter 18 coal-fired units at three power plants and make major improvements at 10 other sites, in a deal that's being called one of the largest pollution reductions agreements in the nation's history.
TVA officials said other plant closings and pollution control upgrades are under consideration as the federal utility attempts to move toward being "one of the nation's leading providers of low-cost and cleaner energy" by 2020.
"As times change, TVA must adapt to meet future challenges," utility president Tom Kilgore said after the TVA board approved the changes.
The deal, which resolves federal government enforcement actions and citizen lawsuits, nearly triples the coal-fired capacity from the 1,000 megawatts TVA had announced last year it planned to idle.
Plants in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky are affected by the plan, which will reduce the TVA coal fleet's nitrogen oxide emissions by 69 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions by 67 percent. The plan will also cut particulate matter pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, helping to reduce respiratory illnesses and combat global warming.
"Today's landmark agreement is a game changer for how we power our homes and businesses in the southeast," said Mary Ann Hitt, director of the Beyond Coal Campaign at the Sierra Club, one of the groups that filed suit seeking the TVA pollution reductions.
The settlement also required TVA to pay $10 million in fines, and spend and estimated $3 billion to $5 billion on new and upgraded pollution controls. TVA will also invest $350 million in clean energy projects that will reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health and the environment.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials announced the deal as the Obama administration continues to push for tougher restrictions on coal-mining water pollution, propose tougher rules on power plant hazardous air pollution and combat congressional efforts to block limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
"The message here is that we don't have anything against coal, but we have to reduce pollution that comes from coal to our air, to our water and on our land," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson told reporters during a conference call Thursday morning.
TVA finalized its moves with approval Thursday of a 10-year plan developed over the last two years with input from various experts, along with political leaders, business and consumer groups and environmental organizations.
TVA is an independent, corporate agency of the United States, created as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933. The law was passed to provide navigation, flood control, electrical generation and economic development to a region that was particularly hard hit by the Great Depression.
Units slated for being phased out by the TVA account for 2,700 megawatts of TVA's 17,000 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity. By comparison, none of the 18 units are as large as American Electric Power's relatively small Kanawha River Plant at Glasgow, and the total of 2,700 megawatts is just slightly smaller than the generating capacity of AEP's John Amos Power Plant in Putnam County.
But together, the three plants involved in the phase-out bought about 8.2 million tons of coal in 2010, roughly equal to the combined production of West Virginia's two largest mountaintop removal mines.
Last year, TVA plants bought 1.2 million tons of coal from West Virginia, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy. One of the plants affected, the John Sevier Fossil Plant near Rogersville, Tenn., got about one-quarter of its coal from West Virginia.
TVA officials said the plants affected are smaller and older, making it difficult and uneconomical to install more modern and effective pollution controls on them. Other utilities, including AEP, have suggested they may move to idle plants of similar size and age, especially as more and tougher air pollution rules kick in.
"TVA -- we need to look at what they're doing here," EPA's Jackson said. "They are business leaders who made a business decision to modernize their fleet."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.