At a board meeting on Thursday, in Oxford, Ms., the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors voted to retire units at three of its coal plants. This will affect coal-burning units at the Colbert and Widows Creek plants in Alabama and the Paradise plant in Kentucky.
Thursday’s announcement by TVA made clear that, as one of the largest utilities in the country, it is ready to back away even further from the use of dirty, outdated coal for electricity. Environmental groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Our Children’s Earth Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Sierra Club have worked for years for cleaner air and a healthier environment in the Valley.
“TVA was founded during the Great Depression to bring low-cost power and innovation to the Valley; the fact that the utility is opting out of coal makes it abundantly clear that this is an outdated fuel source that no longer belongs in our energy mix,” said Verena Owen, Sierra Club Beyond Coal lead volunteer. “TVA is moving in the right direction. Now, as the utility transitions from coal, it must consider the workers and communities who have depended on these plants in the past, and make sure their livelihoods are protected. TVA’s CEO and the Board have a track record of taking economic development seriously, and they should continue to work to find ways to provide a responsible transition for affected workers and communities while making significant new investments in the clean energy economy.”
TVA’s commitment to retire units at three coal plants will protect customers from rising energy bills as coal prices increase, and protect families from the health threats posed by coal pollution. According to the Clean Air Task Force, pollution from the Colbert coal plant in Alabama alone contributed to 940 asthma attacks, 83 heart attacks, and 57 deaths per year.
"TVA is making a responsible choice to retire coal plants that have become a huge liability," said Earthjustice Vice President Abigail Dillen. "Nearly five years ago, a coal ash dam failure at a TVA plant caused the biggest toxic waste spill in U.S. history. Coal plants cannot provide power that is either safe or affordable. Investing in clean energy is cheaper than controlling air and water pollution from these old plants, and there is no practical way to address the costs of climate change pollution from TVA's coal fleet. As TVA makes this important move to clean up and modernize, TVA needs to stand by the people it serves and take all the necessary steps to achieve safe closure of these plants and their coal ash dumps. We must also work together to shape TVA’s future around clean energy choices that bring safe, profitable, and lasting jobs to these communities.”
TVA is now mapping out its next Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the strategy document outlining the utilities energy portfolio for the next 20 years. As TVA works to protect public health and decrease energy costs by moving away from coal, the utility can also commit to speeding the deployment of the most promising and cost-effective renewable technologies, like wind and solar, in its IRP. Wind and solar power are currently experiencing fast growth while simultaneously becoming more cost-competitive with TVA’s other fuel choices.
As utilities and energy companies realize that coal is an increasingly bad investment, they are transitioning their resources to cleaner, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. Today, the United States has more than 60,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 15 million American homes. In fact, the state of Texas produces so much wind energy, that if Texas were a country, it would be the world's sixth-ranking wind energy producer. Meanwhile, states across the country are already being powered by renewable energy. In 2012, Iowa and South Dakota received more than 20 percent of their energy from wind, and nine states produced more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind energy.
Moreover, a commitment from TVA to improve the energy efficiency of homes, businesses, and industries is the quickest way to achieve sustained energy savings and save consumers money in the process, officials said.
“We applaud TVA’s responsible and forward-thinking decision to retire these coal-fired power plants,” said Nathan Moore, staff attorney in the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Nashville office. “We look forward to working with TVA to realize its full potential to transition from outdated, inefficient generation technology to cleaner, more modern resources such as energy efficiency and renewables.”
Officials said, "As the nation's largest public power provider, TVA was first established to bring innovation to the Valley and address a wide range of environmental, economic and technological issues. As it transitions away from coal, TVA should remain true to its founding principles by bypassing natural gas or any other dirty fossil fuel that will continue to exacerbate environmental and public health issues."
“TVA’s coal plants have had a broad range of negative environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, toxic pollution of rivers and streams, and pervasive groundwater contamination,” said Environmental Integrity Project attorney Abel Russ. “Today TVA is taking an important step toward reducing these impacts, a step that will bring long-term benefits to the ecosystems and communities that they operate in.”
“We applaud the direction of TVA and are looking forward to improved air quality and the many other benefits that will be realized for the Southeastern national parks and Great Smoky Mountains,” said Don Barger, senior regional director, Southeast Regional Office, National Parks Conservation Association.
"There is a demonstrated link between pollution and asthma in children," said Tiffany Schauer, executive director of Our Children's Earth Foundation. "Thanks to today's action, every family in Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee can breathe a little easier."