Pollution controls don’t prove as costly as critics forecast times free press electricity video ks2

When the Tennessee Valley Authority reached a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups in 2011 to clean up its power generation, coal industry advocates warned closing fossil plants would push up power rates and cut jobs in TVA’s seven-state region.

But over the past seven years, TVA managed instead to phase out more than half of the 59 coal-fired units it once operated — and install scrubbers and other pollution controls on some of its biggest remaining coal plants — without any major rate increase.

Last month, TVA also completed its first extended power uprate at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Unit 3, which will result in an additional 155 megawatts of carbon-free energy. Similar power uprates at Browns Ferry Units 1 and 2 are scheduled to be finished by next spring.

Last week, TVA began power generation at its new $900 million combined-cycle natural gas plant in Memphis. The 1,000-megawatt gas plant was built to replace the Allen Fossil Plant, which supplied coal-fired power in the western edge of TVA’s territory for more than 58 years before it shut down this spring. It was the last of five major multi-unit coal plants to be idled since the 2011 environmental settlement was reached by TVA with EPA and three environmental activist groups.

Before its closing in April, the Allen Fossil Plant burned 7,200 tons of coal daily, spewing more than 11,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 2,600 tons of nitrogen oxides and the equivalent of 5.4 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Similar pollution was generated by the Widows Creek and Colbert plants in Alabama and the John Sevier and Johnsonville plants in Tennessee, which TVA also shut down in the past seven years.

Jonathan Levenshus, representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Tennessee, said the Sierra Club was among those who sued TVA and helped negotiate the settlement to require the agency to reduce its carbon footprint and shift to cleaner sources of power generation.

At the time of TVA’s settlement with the EPA, the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy and other pro-coal advocacy groups warned that TVA’s plans to shutter 7,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity generation would boost electric rates in the Tennessee Valley by more than 20 percent and cut 65,000 jobs and $900 million of manufacturing output in Tennessee.

TVA has had to spend billions of dollars to build replacement power and to demolish and clean up its old coal plants. But cheaper natural gas prices have helped to keep TVA rates relatively constant for most of the past decade. In the past five years, the average price of TVA power has dropped by 2 percent and, adjusted for inflation, is down by more than 9 percent.

"The doom-and-gloom forecasts about the costs of moving away from dirty coal were clearly exaggerated, and we now have cleaner air to breathe and a more energy efficient system," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

But Smith and other environmentalists want TVA to do more, and they have complained that a rate realignment the agency’s board will consider this week may reduce some of the incentives for self-generated renewable power from solar or wind. TVA is falling behind its neighboring utilities in the share of solar and wind produced in the Valley.

"Now, as cheaper wind and solar power are pushing coal out of the market, it’s vital that TVA retire more of its coal plants, and rely less on its gas plants, to protect our air and water quality, but also to shield consumers from price shocks," Levenshus said. "Both coal and gas continue to cause serious harm to the environment and human health, and they’re no bargain either. New wind or solar power plants can be cheaper to build than a new fossil fuel plant, particularly when measured by cost per megawatt-hour."