TVA Closing 8 Coal-Fired Power Plant Units in Ala., Ky.

In this Oct. 14, 2013 photo, tons of coal sit next to a Big Sandy power plant unit near Louisa, Ky., but the days of using coal to generate electricity are numbered at the sprawling operation in eastern Kentucky. Kentucky Power Co. is closing the complex?s 800-megawatt unit in 2015, and the utility says it will seek regulatory approval to convert the plant?s smaller unit to burn natural gas instead of coal. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)
AP, Bruce Schreiner
By TRAVIS LOLLER

The nation's largest public utility is shuttering eight coal-fired boilers at plants in Alabama and Kentucky, and more reductions could be in store over the next few years.

The Tennessee Valley Authority relied on coal to generate a majority of its electricity for decades, but at a Thursday board meeting in Oxford, Miss., CEO Bill Johnson said he hopes to reduce coal to just 20 percent of the utility's portfolio over the next decade. It currently stands at 38 percent.

Johnson said the change is needed because power demand is down and environmental regulations are becoming stricter.

The board voted unanimously to shut down all five coal-burning units at the Colbert plant in Tuscumbia, Ala., one of two remaining units at the Widows Creek plant in Stevenson, Ala., and two of three units at the Paradise plant in Drakesboro, Ky. The Kentucky units will be replaced by a natural gas plant, but more than 200 of the 400 jobs there will be affected.

Colbert employs about 150 people, and Widows Creek employs about 175. Johnson said it was not immediately clear how many jobs would be lost at those two plants.

More closures could be coming over the next few years. Johnson said at a news conference after the meeting that the final unit at Widows Creek is still under evaluation as are the Allen plant in Memphis, Tenn., and the Shawnee plant near Paducah, Ky.

Stephen Smith is executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a member of TVA's Regional Energy Resource Council. He said that if TVA were planning to keep the coal-burning units at Allen, Shawnee and Widows Creek open, he would expect the utility to be preparing to upgrade them.

"If they are not taking measures to retrofit these plants, you can deduce that they will retire them," he said.

"TVA is in coal country, yet it's moving away from coal as a fuel source because it's the right thing to do economically and environmentally."

TVA board members from Kentucky and Alabama said voting in favor of the closures was a tough call because they will cost jobs in their communities.

"This is a personal nightmare for me," said Peter Mahurin, a board member from Bowling Green, Ky. "But I must support what I believe to be in the best interest of TVA's customers."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell met with Johnson last month in an effort to get TVA to continue operating all three coal-burning units at Paradise. The board had previously approved upgrading the two oldest units with environmental controls. But on Thursday, Chief Operating Officer Chip Pardee recommended building a gas plant instead.

He said the third unit at Paradise is newer and has sufficient environmental controls to continue operating on coal.

In a news release after the vote, McConnell blamed the Obama administration for the unit closures.

"I fought hard to prevent these changes and fortunately one of the units will continue to burn coal, saving hundreds of jobs," he said.

Rick Newman is the top elected official in Muhlenberg County, where the Paradise plant is located. His father was a coal miner for 32 years, and he was upset by the decision to shut down two units there.

"I am sort of sick to my stomach," he said. "Coal really is our legacy, for generations here. It seems to be disappearing and disappearing as days go by."

Newman said that about half the coal burned at Paradise is mined there in the county, so the closure could affect mining jobs as well.

"This is going to be a blow, and I feel sorry for all those connected to coal," he said. "But they could've closed the whole plant down. We're thankful for that."

TVA board member Joe Ritch, of Huntsville, Ala., said it was a difficult decision to close units.

"As painful as it is, it's the right thing to do."

He said saving a few jobs now would reduce TVA's competitiveness for years to come.

Daryl Dewberry, the United Mine Workers' international vice president for the Southeast, said the decision was not a surprise because federal regulations are making it harder to burn coal. He also predicted that the move would increase the cost of energy.

"President Obama's war on coal is going to put us in worse economic shape," he said.

But TVA is not abandoning coal entirely. The utility is spending about $1 billion to upgrade a coal-fired plant in Gallatin, Tenn., and other units remain open.

In addition to reducing energy from coal, Johnson said he hopes to increase the percentage of nuclear power in the utility's portfolio from about 32 percent to 40 percent.

He told the board that the utility is on track to complete a second reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn., by the end of 2015. But there are no immediate plans to complete a reactor at the mothballed Bellefonte Nuclear Power Station northeast of Scottsboro, Ala. Johnson said the estimated cost of completion has risen from $4.9 billion to between $7.4 and $8.7 billion.

Johnson said there is no short-term need for the plant, but the utility intends to maintain it as a viable option for the future.

Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan, in Louisville, Ky., and Phillip Rawls, in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report.

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IN MY OPINION ONLY

It's all about the reduction then it becomes too late.

November 16 2013 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rail90

Coal Plants are valuable point sources of CO2 for the production of Algal Ethanol and are still more cost-effective than Natural Gas even when the CO2 is not sold for profit. This approach when to a large extent the animals are already out of the barn and the best approach is to collect the CO2 and make it available for Algal Fuel production, makes no sense.

November 16 2013 at 5:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
majesticmeows

It's the right thing to do to protect our air and water against the severe pollution caused by coal. Re-train the coal miners for jobs in clean energy.

November 16 2013 at 4:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to majesticmeows's comment
willypfistergash

Fidel...is that you? Vladimir maybe?

"You no work coal. You work wind mills. Oh, you no like work wind mill? Maybe you like Siberia."

November 16 2013 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
teedee911

There's no such thing as "clean coal", period.

November 16 2013 at 1:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to teedee911's comment
tony

Who cares, burn it anyway, keep the cost of natural gas down.

November 16 2013 at 2:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pdbliz

OPRAH TRAVELING THE WORLD,,,TELLING HOW AMERICANS ARE RACIST AGAINST OBAMA,!!!!!
IT TAKES ONE RACIST TO KNOW ANOTHER RACIST.!!!!!! OPRAH YOU ARE IN THE TOP 10 OF RACIST.!!!!!
AND,,,,RACE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH OBAMA,,,,HE IS HALF WHITE,,,,,HALF BLACK,,,SO ,,WHICH PART ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT.????

November 15 2013 at 10:09 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pdbliz's comment
tony

No 1 gives a flying rat holes behind what o pra says, thinks. @ least smart people don`t.

November 16 2013 at 2:50 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
davefromfwb1

Well this explains why Gulf Power...the main supplier of electricity to Florida is raising their rates in January by 7.6%. They also planned another rate increase in April for another 5.4%!!!! This is absolutely insane.

November 15 2013 at 8:30 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

All power plants produce electricity by using heat. Until 2010 everyone including me thought that heat was caused by vibrating atoms. In 2010 I discovered what heat actually is - not vibration that's for sure. A major clue was, if you heat an iron bar, for example, it gets bigger. Why ?
How could iron get bigger ? Well, I found it, it's not vibrating atoms, and it's a technology worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

November 15 2013 at 6:14 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to alfredschrader's comment
willypfistergash

Hydro plants? Don't dams use water to turn turbines? Wind uses.....wind for same? Heat? Isn't an electrode spun through magnetic lines of flux (or spun around the elctrode)?

November 15 2013 at 6:52 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to willypfistergash's comment
tony

Incorrect use of the word electrode there gash hole.

November 16 2013 at 2:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
willypfistergash

Correct tony. I start saying stator rotor exciter and the like peoples eyes glaze over.

November 16 2013 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
tony

bull manure

November 16 2013 at 2:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
michael

This is the problem we face as a nation because our politicians are greedy and corrupt. We should have had an energy policy during the 70's with the Arab oil embargo. 40 years later and many crisses we still do not have a energy policy. Why/??/ So that elected officials can get paid by coal, oil, gas, nuke folks. This trash must stop. We need a regional energy policy that takes advantage of all of the US resources including wind and solar. If we do not get our act together start teaching your kids Mandrain (chinese).

November 15 2013 at 5:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to michael's comment
tony

Yep, nixon dropped the ball back in 73. The proper policy would have been to fly, after the embargo started, 150 B52`s right over sadia arabia with the bomb bay doors open. Then he should have gave them a call and said so prince, what`s up with this ambargo crap. Lets get the flow going again or next time my fellow Americans will drop 50,000 tons of American made ordinance right down you`r chimney. Just the sound of them 150 B52`s would have scared the holy crap outta all they`re camels. & if the prince did`nt quite see the light there, then nixon should have said so mr prince, thou may expect a visit from the USS IOWA, it`ll be coming down the sewage canal to pay thou a visit.

November 16 2013 at 3:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tony's comment
willypfistergash

And then nixon should have taught you to.spell.

November 23 2013 at 10:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
dknowles60

wind and solar don't work. it fail the fed gov(tva) in its greet time of need in april 2011

November 23 2013 at 9:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan

Even China has decided they need to curtail coal-fired power plants. In some cities in China, you can't see across the street for the smog. If some genius could develop a way to burn coal without all the side-effects, that would be great. There is an abundant supply of coal. I suspect if they could burn it cleanly, however, they would.

November 15 2013 at 4:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dan's comment
tony

Who cares what they breath over there. They sure as all that be holy don`t care about us.

November 16 2013 at 3:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
elaineen

Left wing environmentalists, who are mostly well off financially, will insure that the poor can no longer afford to pay for electricity.

November 15 2013 at 3:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to elaineen's comment
dknowles60

yes

November 23 2013 at 9:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply