The nation's largest public utility has voted to close six coal-powered units in Alabama and replace two more in Kentucky with a new natural gas plant.
At a Thursday meeting, Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson said increasingly stringent environmental regulations and flat power demand have made it necessary to rethink how the utility generates power. According to the TVA, two of the three units at the Paradise Plant in Muhlenberg County will be converted to natural gas, but unit #3, one of TVA largest coal plants will continue to operate.
The board also voted to close all five units at the Colbert plant in northwest Alabama and one of two remaining units at the Widow's Creek plant in northeast Alabama.
Board members from Alabama and Kentucky said the closures were difficult but necessary.
"It's a critical decision today."
A decision some hoped would go their way. A decision to stay with coal fired units at Paradise Plant. But the coal industry is on the losing side of this argument.
"This would hurt," says Muhlenberg County Judge Executive Rick Newman. He says the decision to close two coal fired units will hurt the community because of lost jobs.
"You're looking at coal mining jobs, you're looking at trucking jobs, and you're looking at coal severance dollars, and you're looking at quite a decrease in employment at TVA," Newman says. He adds there's also lost coal severance dollars to pay for projects.
"The biggest committment of the coal severance dollars is to retire the debt on the courthouse remodeling and building of new $3 million 911 center.," says Newman.
But TVA officials say the board took into consideration impacts on local communities.
"But when you balance that with the overall value to the entire TVA service area in lower rates and a more balanced portfolio, it made the most sense to retire units
1 and 2," says James R. “Bob” Dalrymple, Senior Vice President Of Coal and Gas Operations. He says the region will win more than 600 construction jobs with the building of a natural gas fired plant, and the environment will win also.
"The emissions from a natural gas fired facility are significantly reduced from what you find in a coal plant," he says. Dalrymple says they're working with plant employees on the transition as its built, but no time table on when the natural gas plant will be done or on how many jobs will be lost.