Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Trump, McConnell urge TVA not to close two of its oldest coal-fired units, one at Paradise; board meets Thursday

The Tennessee Valley Authority's Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. The town of Paradise, which
no longer exists, was made famous in 1971 by John Prine's eponymous anti-strip mining song(Photo by Kathleen Cole)
President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are trying to convince to the federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority not to close two of its oldest coal-fired power plants. "Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix," said Trump in a Feb. 11 tweet, and implored TVA to "give serious consideration to all factors" before deciding to close the Bull Run Fossil Plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the Unit 3 generator at the Paradise Fossil Plant in Western Kentucky, where two of the three units have already switched to natural gas.

McConnell tweeted in support of Trump, saying that "Coal has helped fuel our country's greatness & it needs to be part of our energy future," Will Wade reports for Bloomberg. "But even though the TVA is a federal government agency rather than an investor-owned utility, their ability to sway the board may be limited," Wade reports. "That’s because the agency doesn’t receive any taxpayer money and has to make its revenue through sales of electricity, just like a private generator."

However, members of the TVA board, which meets Thursday in Chattanooga, are appointed by the president to five-year terms with the advice and consent of the Senate. One of the seven members is a former executive of a major coal company with operations near Paradise. "McConnell, in a video, urged TVA to wait until the TVA board gets two new Trump appointees," notes James Bruggers of Inside Climate News. The terms of two members appointed by President Obama expire May 18.

Bruggers notes that the Paradise plant is one of the nation's least reliable and most of the coal it burned in the first three quarters of 2018 came from Murray Energy Corp., run by Robert Murray, the nation's largest independent coal operator and a leading political supporter of Trump.

Despite the opposition from Trump, McConnell and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, TVA released final environmental assessments on the evening of Feb. 11 concluding that both plants should be shut down by 2023 because of the projected expense of maintenance and complying with environmental laws, as well as a high forced-outage rate and stagnating or declining power demand in the seven-state region it serves, Dave Flessner reports for the Times Free Press in Chattanooga. The assessment also noted that gas is cheaper than coal and likely to remain so, and that more customers are using energy-efficient appliances and furnaces as well as generating their own power with renewable sources such as solar panels and windmills.

Coal has been a declining part of TVA's energy mix for some time; it once supplied more than two-thirds of TVA's energy in the 1980s, but has now shrunk to 20 percent. Its board "is scheduled to discuss the future of the two aging coal plants, and could vote to phase out the fossil units over the next four years," Flessner reports. "TVA has already either shut down 32 of the 59 coal-fired units it once operated and has been considering since last August shutting down Bull Run by 2023 and shuttering the final coal unit at Paradise by 2020."

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