With a boom and a cloud of dust, the Tennessee Valley Authority imploded the 600-foot smokestack of its oldest coal-fired power plant, located in New Johnsonville. The implosion clears the site for future development and a possible generation project that could advance clean-energy technologies.
“I’m sad to see it go,” said Bob Joiner, a TVA retiree who worked at the plant for more than three decades and watched the implosion. “That plant was built in the ‘40s by the greatest generation. They put all that together with nothing but pencils, paper and slide rules, and it was built to last.”
Johnsonville generated its first electricity in 1951 and its last on New Year’s Eve of 2017.
“The team set out to honor the Johnsonville legacy by applying the same pride and integrity in the dismantling of the facility that was exemplified in the building, maintaining and operation of it for almost 70 years,” said Roger Waldrep, TVA vice president, Major Projects. “Safety is our primary mission, and I’d like to thank the team who were able to complete this portion of the project without any issues.”
Currently, there are 20 combustion turbines at the site, a number of which will be retired as new, more efficient natural gas generation is added to the system. The utility conditionally approved placing advanced light-weight combustion turbines—known as aeroderivatives—at the site pending environmental reviews that will start next year.
TVA is also eyeing Johnsonville’s combustion turbines for a possible carbon-capture demonstration. The project could identify ways to lower the cost of carbon utilization technologies, and potentially help advance future hydrogen generation technologies.
“It’s an exciting time to be in the utility industry, and technology is rapidly changing,” said Jeff Lyash, TVA president and CEO. “TVA is a technology leader, and our coal sites can serve as a testbed as we build cleaner energy systems that drive jobs and investment into our communities.”
This month, TVA announced it is investing $1 billion to build new lower-emission, natural gas-fueled combustion turbines at shuttered coal plants in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and Paradise, Kentucky.
Businesses and industries are already seeing the value of TVA’s focus on cleaner energy.
In the first six months of fiscal year 2021, TVA helped attract or retain more than 45,200 jobs and $3.9 billion in investment to the region, not including recent significant news from LG, Milwaukee Tools and Oracle.
In Tennessee, where TVA is headquartered, nearly 20,000 new companies and corporations flooded the state from January to March, according to the University of Tennessee's Quarterly Business and Economic Indicators Q1 2021 report. That’s a 55 percent jump over the first quarter of 2020, with the fastest growth seen in the state's smallest counties.
Mr. Lyash said TVA is reducing carbon emissions because it plays a significant role in the region’s economic development as more job creators, manufacturers and local-power companies are demanding cleaner energy.
"Since 2005, TVA has reduced carbon emissions by more than 60 percent compared to 2005 levels. The utility plans to reduce that number to 70 percent by 2030, 80 percent by 2035 and achieve net-zero emission generation by 2050," officials said..
“TVA never stands still,” Mr. Lyash said. “Building a clean, low-cost energy future is an essential path for our region to compete for jobs in the new clean economy.”
In 2005, TVA generated 57 percent of its electricity from coal. Since 2012, TVA has retired six coal plants, which reduced the amount of energy produced by coal to about 14 percent. The utility says it could retire its entire coal fleet by 2035 – pending necessary approvals.
As TVA phases out coal, the utility is investing in solar, nuclear and natural gas. It is also exploring advanced clean-generation technologies as well as upgrades to its 109-unit conventional hydro-electric fleet.
According to Mr. Lyash, TVA is a national leader, with 63 percent carbon-free generation – making it the greenest utility in the Southeast with 50 percent more renewable generation than its closest regional peer.
By 2035, TVA plans to add about 10,000 megawatts of solar power. To do this, the utility plans to use natural gas to keep the power system reliable as coal plants retire.
The economic development success of this renewable energy strategy is already evident.
Since 2018, TVA’s Green Invest solar program has attracted nearly $2.7 billion in solar investment and procured over 2,000 megawatts of solar on behalf of its customers, including City of Knoxville, General Motors, Jack Daniels, Facebook, Google and Vanderbilt University.
“Businesses want clean energy, and we are committed to using our power system to revitalize both rural and urban communities,” Mr. Lyash said. “Our region is open for business, and TVA is helping make our communities the premier destination for companies that want to achieve their sustainability goals.”