TVA board reclaims authority over Cumberland and Kingston sites, outlines plans to meet rising power demands
By Lorelei Goff
Members of local communities and environmental groups, some wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Tennessee Valley Communities United on the back to show solidarity, packed the Norris Middle School gym on May 9, for a Tennessee Valley Authority board listening session to demand that the utility prioritize safety and clean energy.
TVA serves nearly 10 million customers in Tennessee and parts of six states through a mixed-power generation portfolio. According to the TVA’s 2022 Sustainability Report, the company’s total generation capacity breaks down to 39% nuclear, 33% gas, 15% coal, 9% hydroelectric and 4% wind and solar.
The listening session provided interested parties the opportunity to speak directly to the TVA board. Topics included worker safety, coal ash clean up, the imminent danger of climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels toward a clean energy future.
Attendees also voiced opposition against plans for replacing coal plants in Kingston and Cumberland with gas plants and pipelines, including the controversial Ridgeline Pipeline expansion project. The proposed pipeline expansion would run through Trousdale, Smith, Jackson, Putnam, Overton, Fentress, Morgan and Roane counties to provide fuel to a gas plant at the Kingston site. Among other issues, opponents cited potential damage to the 360 million-year-old Flynn Creek Impact Crater, a rare geological formation, and the Hawkins Impact Cave, which is the only cave known to have been formed in the central uplift area of an ancient impact crater.
Janie Clark, widow of Kingston coal ash disaster first responder Ansol Clark, says there are far too many widows and orphans as a result of the aftermath of the Kingston coal ash spill.
“These workers were on the front lines, cleaning up the toxic mess, one of the largest man-made disasters to happen in the history of the country, for which TVA was responsible,” Clark says. “They were denied the protection of a mask for fear of termination of employment and told coal ash was safe enough to eat and drink. The worst part was, the masks designated to the site were thrown into a trash bin.”
Clark says TVA has a responsibility as coal ash is being relocated to employ honest, competent contractors, that multiple groups should be involved in remediation efforts and that workers must be protected. She ended her comments by saying people will always remember Kingston.
Geologist Richard Finch, Ph.D., drew attention to the worsening climate crisis, which he says is clearly human-caused. He called for an end to using fossil fuels and fossil fuel-burning plants.
After describing the multitude of now well-documented consequences happening in the United States and across the world, and pointing to further calamities to come if not addressed quickly, Finch made a plea to the board.
“What is important is we already know how to ameliorate and slow down climate change — reduce production of greenhouse gasses,” he says. “And we accomplish this by switching to clean energy sources.”
Michael Hawkins, a member of the grassroots organization SAGE TN whose land lies in the path of the proposed Ridgeline Pipeline, says, “Enbridge seeks to bisect the [Flynn Creek Impact Crater] by constructing its methane gas line directly above the central uplift and over and through the watershed of the Hawkins Impact Cave.
“Make no mistake — I am opposed to this pipeline for a number of other important reasons. But today I come before you not to ask a great deal of TVA or Enbridge; only that you and they respect the proven geological, biological and historical importance of such a unique treasure by rerouting a tiny portion of the pipeline project to avoid disturbing this unique, pristine, valuable and vulnerable formation.”
J.T. Neal of Nashville read a petition submitted by the Clean Up TVA coalition and other grassroots groups calling on the board to:
The TVA board announced its concession to one petition demand following its business meeting on May 10. It restored authority to determine future decisions about the fate of the Kingston and Cumberland coal plants to the board. That authority was delegated to TVA CEO Jeff Lyash in November 2021.
Lyash published a Record of Decision in the Federal Register in January 2023, stating TVA’s intent to replace the Cumberland plant with a new gas power plant and pipeline. The new plant will generate 1,450 megawatts of electricity. A 32-mile pipeline is also planned for the project.
Activists staged a demonstration prior to that quarterly business meeting. Members of various groups stood outside the school building where board members and attendees entered. Most were silent, while one called attention to how close the pipeline would run to his home.
The demonstration also included signs depicting the route of the proposed Ridgeline Pipeline project, “No TVA Pipeline” yard signs, photos of the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill and cleanup and an image of a worker’s memorial overlooking the spill site that was constructed by the late Kingston coal ash cleanup worker, Ansol Clark.
A press release issued by the Clean Up TVA Coalition following the TVA’s board meeting on May 10 says the 15 organizations comprising the coalition applaud the decision to reclaim decision-making authority over the Cumberland and Kingston sites, but believe it does not go far enough. The release called for board members to prevent what it calls dangerous and unnecessary gas buildouts and says the board “failed to exert its oversight responsibility in TVA’s decision to force a large gas power plant and pipeline on communities that have been clear they do not want them.”
Environmental groups point out that gas power buildouts are out of line with the Biden Administration’s executive order calling for a carbon pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035.
The region’s energy demand is growing at six times that of the national average. TVA’s plans for future power generation also include adding 6,000 megawatts of solar energy and energy storage, more than doubling its current solar capacity, in addition to new nuclear and pumped storage generation.
However, in addition to the previously mentioned fossil gas buildouts, TVA has announced a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed construction and operation of a combustion turbine plant, 12-mile gas pipeline and battery energy storage system in Cheatham County, Tennessee, to replace the second retiring coal unit at the Cumberland site.
Public comments on the scope of the EIS, alternatives being considered, and environmental issues that should be addressed as a part of the EIS will be accepted online, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in writing to J. Taylor Johnson, NEPA Compliance Specialist, 1101 Market Street, BR2C-C, Chattanooga, TN 37402, until June 20.
TVA intends to host an in-person open house in the Ashland City, Tennessee, area on May 24, from 5 to 7 p.m. central time.