TVA to close 6 coal-pow­ered units in Ala., re­place 2 in Ky.

Cites en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, flat de­mand

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY TRAVIS LOLLER

The Ten­nessee Val­ley Au­thor­ity’s board has voted to close six coal-pow­ered units in Alabama and re­place two oth­ers in Ken­tucky with a nat­u­ral gas plant.

In­creas­ingly strin­gent en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and flat power de­mand have made it nec­es­sary to re­think how the na­tion’s largest pub­lic util­ity gen­er­ates power, CEO Bill John­son said at the Thurs­day board meet­ing in Ox­ford, Miss.

“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.”

In fis­cal 2013, coal ac­counted for 38 per­cent of TVA’s port­fo­lio while nat­u­ral gas made up 8 per­cent. Mr. John­son said he would like to see those num­bers closer to 20 per­cent each in the next decade.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, met with Mr. John­son last month to seek con­tin­ued op­er­a­tion of all three coal-burn­ing units at Par­adise Fos­sil Plant in Drakes­boro, Ky. The board had pre­vi­ously ap­proved up­grad­ing the two old­est units with en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trols. But on Thurs­day, Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Chip Pardee rec­om­mended build­ing a nat­u­ral 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, Mr. 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.

Mr. John­son said about 200 of the 400 jobs at Par­adise will be af­fected, and the units will con­tinue to run un­til new en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions take ef­fect. That could be in 2015 or even later, if an ex­ten­sion is granted.

“I am sort of sick to my stom­ach,” said Rick Newman, the top elected of­fi­cial in Muh­len­berg County, where the Par­adise plant is lo­cated. “Coal re­ally is our legacy, for gen­er­a­tions here. It seems to be dis­ap­pear­ing and dis­ap­pear­ing as days go by.”

Mr. Newman, whose fa­ther was a coal miner for 32 years, 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.”

The TVA board also voted Thurs­day to close all five units at the Col­bert plant in Tus­cumbia, Ala., where about 150 peo­ple are em­ployed, and one of two re­main­ing units at the Wid­ows Creek plant in Steven­son, Ala. There are about 175 em­ploy­ees there.

Mr. John­son said he does not yet know how many jobs at those two plants will be af­fected.

TVA board mem­ber Joe Ritch, of Huntsville, Ala., echoed Mr. Mahurin’s com­ments on the clo­sures, say­ing, “As painful as it is, it’s the right thing to do.”

He said that 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.

Mr. John­son said that two other coal-fired plants are still un­der eval­u­a­tion — the Allen plant in Mem­phis, Tenn., and the Shawnee plant near Pa­d­u­cah, Ky. — as is the fi­nal unit at Wid­ows Creek.

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ten­nessee Val­ley Au­thor­ity project man­ager Don­ald Crab­tree tours the old Bowl­ing Green, Ky., power plant, which was torn down to al­low for TVA ex­pan­sion, in Novem­ber 2011. The TVA board has voted to close six coal-pow­ered units in Alabama and re­place two more in Ken­tucky with a new nat­u­ral gas plant.

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