Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority voted 5-2 Thursday morning to close the last remaining coal-fired generating unit at the federal utility's Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, despite opposition from President Trump, Gov. Matt Bevin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky's other senator, Rand Paul.
"Residents had warned that closing Unit 3 at the plant, which employs 131 people, would hurt the local economy and force people to move away for work, and Trump sent a tweet earlier this week urging TVA to consider all factors before voting to close viable power plants like Unit 3 at Paradise," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "However, an analysis by the utility said the aging Unit 3 had deteriorated, had a relatively high rate of unplanned shutdowns, and would require significant costs for mechanical and environmental upgrades to keep it running."
TVA President Bill Johnson told the board that the utility could save more than $1 billion by closing the Paradise unit by December 2020 and the Bull Run Fossil Plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn., by 2023. “This decision is about economics. It’s about keeping rates as low as possible,” he said.
Estep notes that the three-unit Paradise plant "was once the largest coal-fired facility of its kind in the world," and TVA replaced two of its coal units with a new plant fired by natural gas, the abundance and cheapness of which recently made it the top fuel for generating electricity in the U.S. (The hamlet of Paradise, which no longer exists, was made famous in 1971 by John Prine's eponymous anti-strip mining song.)
"TVA said 40 percent of the plant employees are retirement eligible and Johnson said those wanting to stay could be offered jobs elsewhere in the utility," reports Dave Flessner of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. TVA Director Kenny Allen, a retired Western Kentucky coal executive, said “The impact and ripple effect on community cannot be fully quantified.” Allen he was "also concerned about the reliability of TVA's power without these units. Other types of fuel supplies like natural gas and renewable power are not as resilient."
Allen asked the board to postpone the decision on the Paradise plant until the May meeting. McConnell had pleaded for a delay until Trump can replace two of President Obama's appointees, whose terms expire May 18; the board's next meeting is May 9. Board members are subject to Senate confirmation and serve five-year terms. "Trump appointees have a 4-3 majority on the TVA’s board at the moment, but the president’s tweet was not enough to persuade them," reports Adam Beam of The Associated Press.
|TVA service region and facilities; Paradise plant is near top center, on the edge of the area. (Click on image for larger version)|