The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down eight of its coal-burning generating stations in Alabama and Kentucky. Board members of the federally owned utility agreed to the plan last week, reacting to changing market conditions and federal environmental rules. The move will reduce coal generation by 3,300 megawatts in the two states.
The decision is being seen as a blow to the local coal industry, but a boon for the region’s air quality. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) met with TVA’s CEO in a bid to dissuade the utility from shuttering coal plants, but to no avail. Enviros, meanwhile, cheered the development.
Absent from the seemingly positive news, however, is any mention of renewables. Wind and solar farms are being built across the country, but TVA said it’s hoping to turn to natural gas and nuclear power to help it plug the gaps created by its abandonment of coal.
Forty years ago, the TVA got more than 80% of its power from coal. Today coal accounts for 38%, a number that is dropping fast as a drilling boom in the U.S. pushes down the price of natural gas, the fuel that competes with coal for power generation.
When the TVA is done with its announced coal-plant retirements, only 33 of its 59 coal units will remain in service. Some of those are still under review, said TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield. …
The company said that continuing to run the plants would risk noncompliance with new mercury rules coming into effect.
TVA leaders weren’t happy about the decision, but they can see the writing on the wall: Coal power is dying in the U.S. “This is a personal nightmare for me,” one board member told the Associated Press. “But I must support what I believe to be in the best interest of TVA’s customers.”