The Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest, government-owned utility, has begun to shift away from dependence on coal-fired power plants. The authority announced its plans to shutter eight coal-fired boilers in Alabama and Kentucky back on Nov. 14.
The board unanimously voted to shut down one of two remaining coal-burning units at the Windows Creek plant in Stevenson, Ala., and five units at the Colbert plant in Tuscumbia, Ala. It also intends to remove two of three units in the Paradise plant in Drakesboro, Ky., and replace them with natural gas units instead.
Still, 200 to 400 jobs will be impacted in Kentucky in addition to those lost at its Alabama facilities. Together the Alabama plants employ about 325 people, but TVA hasn’t said exactly how many jobs would be lost at these facilities after the shutdown.
Though the plant closings will lead to job losses, TVA’s plans will go a long way in cleaning up the utility’s carbon footprint by cutting back on a significant amount of emissions. Last year, the eight coal-fired units collectively emitted 14.1 million tons of carbon dioxide—as much as 2.9 million passenger vehicles.
In 1971, TVA used coal to provide 80 percent of its electricity. However, throughout the years, the utility has shifted toward nuclear energy, natural gas and renewable resources to whittle down its dependence on coal to just 38 percent. Now TVA CEO Bill Johnson said he hopes to reduce coal to just 20 percent of the utility’s portfolio in the next decade.
To reach this goal, TVA plans to close more coal power plants in the next few years and increase renewable energy generation from resources such as hydropower and solar to 20 percent, up from its current 15.7 percent.
TVA provides power for more than 9 million people in seven states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. However, it’s not clear where or how many plants the authority is considering closing.
Though TVA officials have not announced when the plants would close, many believe it will happen before 2016 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begins enforcing restrictions on mercury, sulfur and other power plant pollutants. TVA remarked that at least a few of the units it plans to close would not meet those standards.
On top of these impending EPA regulations, existing power plants should also see even stricter emission standards for carbon dioxide in the future. The EPA proposed emission standards for new power plants in September and President Obama has ordered the agency to come up with standards for existing power plants by next summer.
Because of these upcoming rules, TVA’s facility shutdowns are just the latest of several power plant closures around the country. In early October, FirstEnergy decided to shut down two of its coal-powered facilities in Pennsylvania, removing more than 2,000 megawatts from the electricity grid and affecting 380 employees. The company said the low cost of natural gas made coal a more expensive energy option and with further government restrictions coming down the pipeline, it would cost $270 million to bring the plants into environmental compliance.
And Energy Capital Partners announced that its Brayton Point Power Station in Massachusetts will stop generating energy by May 2017. The company filed papers in October informing officials of its plans to shut down. Again, the diminishing profits from electricity and the increase in natural gas were blamed for the problem. But bringing the Brayton Point Power Station, which was cited by federal regulators as one of the state’s largest polluters, into environmental compliance is yet another reason for the closure. According to the company, it would need to invest “significant capital to meet environmental regulations and to operate and maintain an aging plant.”