Front Porch Blog

TVA idling units at 3 coal plants- as good as it sounds?

TVA's Kingston Plant with its Coal Ash in the foreground
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a New Deal initiative designed to uplift the Tennessee and surrounding Appalachian states by providing electricity to the region, is now better known for one of the largest environmental disasters on the east coast (not including the BP oil spill). A few days before Christmas of 2008, 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge inundated the Emory and Tennessee Rivers. They have been cleaning up their coal ash and their reputation ever since. Both have been difficult and there is still plenty of toxic mud left in the river and on their public image.

The newest attempt for the TVA to “clean up their act” is their recent announcement to idle nine units at three of their coal-fired power plants, equaling about 1000 megawatts. The TVA has been under intense pressure to clean up its air pollution ever since it was sued by the state of North Carolina to do so. (the 4th Court of Appeals overturned the NC win). TVA CEO Tom Kilgore says TVA is doing this because they are interested in ” replacing some coal with other, cleaner fuel sources allows a reduction in air emissions including carbon”. Some of those options include nuclear and energy efficiency.

TVA Coverage Area

Energy Efficiency is the best way to reduce carbon, and save consumers money on their electric bills. Plus, there is zero waste, unlike nuclear. As Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute, a organization that promotes profitable innovations for energy and resource efficiency notes that, “In general, up to 75% of the electricity used in the U.S. today could be saved with efficiency measures that cost less than the electricity itself.”

Progress Energy and Duke Energy have both made announcements in the past two years to retire or convert 24 units in the state of North Carolina. This sounds quite dramatically positive until you look at the numbers. Most of these plants have been operating under 40% capacity. If some these plants are converted to natural gas and are operated at fuller capacity, it may pump more CO2 in the atmosphere. Plus, the new Cliffside coal-fired power plant, scheduled to go online in 2012, will make up for half the capacity that is being shut down.

Makes you wonder- is idling or shutting down underperforming power generating units or entire coal power plants the new “greenwash” for electric utilities?

More resources:

Huntsville Times Blog: TVA to idle 9 coal-fired units, including 6 at Widows Creek near Bridgeport
TVA Press Release: TVA to Idle Nine Coal-Fired Units





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