By Dan Radmacher
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to transition away from coal has generated significant push-back from environmental and community groups because of its reliance on methane gas instead of renewable energy.
The federally-owned southern electric corporation’s plan calls for replacing two aging coal-fired power plants in Tennessee — the Cumberland and Kingston fossil plants — with methane gas generation. This would require the construction of two new fracked gas pipelines totaling more than 150 miles.
The $3.5 billion plan has been criticized for failing to meet the Biden administration’s goals of decarbonizing the electric grid by 2035. Instead, TVA proposes reaching net-zero emissions 15 years later — though its plan is short on details for achieving that goal.
TVA’s natural gas plans helped prompt the creation of Clean Up TVA, a coalition pushing the utility toward more transparency, accountability and the use of more renewable energy. Appalachian Voices, the nonprofit organization that publishes The Appalachian Voice, is a member of that coalition.
Local officials have also criticized TVA’s fossil-fuel focused approach. Nashville Mayor John Cooper sent a letter to the agency urging it to look at solar instead of subjecting Nashville to more pipeline construction and pollution from methane gas power plants.
A report released in July by Appalachian Voices found that clean power portfolios that include a mix of renewables, storage and energy efficiency would create 20 to 30 times more long-term jobs than the fossil fuel plan, in addition to the beneficial environmental and public health impacts of moving away from fossil fuels.
TVA is still early in the process, and activists believe they have time to convince the agency to change course. Federal law requires TVA to conduct an environmental review of its plans for both plants. That process is expected to take until the end of 2022 for the Cumberland plant and late 2023 for Kingston.
In late June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency submitted comments criticizing TVA’s draft Environmental Impact Statement for replacing the Cumberland Fossil Plant with a natural gas plant. The agency was especially concerned that the plan wouldn’t do enough to help meet U.S. carbon emission reduction goals, and that it exposes TVA’s customers to the price volatility of gas.
EPA also criticized TVA for failing to properly quantify greenhouse gas emissions and omitting information about indirect emissions from the production, processing and transportation of natural gas.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement for Kingston is expected later this year. In addition, TVA must conduct environmental reviews for both planned pipelines needed to transport gas to the new plants. The companies building the pipelines — Enbridge and Kinder Morgan — are in the early stages of seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.