The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) board of directors voted to retire Memphis' Allen Fossil Plant in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park and replace it with a 1,000 megawatt natural gas plant by December 31st, 2018 at their regular meeting on Thursday morning in Knoxville. The new plant is expected to cost $975 million.
The TVA is under a consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency to either close the Allen coal plant or install emission controls by that 2018 deadline. Over the past few months, the TVA has been taking public comments on the decision. An Environmental Assessment report studied various options, including replacing Allen's generation capacity with renewable power sources, such as wind, solar, and biomass.
At the board's public listening session, several environmentalists spoke about their wishes for the TVA to focus more on wind and solar power.
But TVA president Bill Johnson said, while the TVA hopes to work more with renewables in the future, "we need utility-scale support." In other words, the TVA wants a more reliable source of generation now, but it may add more renewable generation sources later on.
"If we ever hope to do work with Clean Line, we need to have this plant behind it," Johnson said.
Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners has proposed the Plains and Eastern Clean Line, a 700-mile overhead direct-current transmission line that would deliver 3,500 megawatts of low-cost wind power from the Great Plains to Tennessee and other areas in the Southeast. It wants to build its energy delivery station in northeast Shelby County. Clean Line is working under a memorandum of understanding with the TVA to study the benefits of how it could be used as a power supply source for its overall grid.
The TVA's Environmental Assessment suggested a natural gas plant ranging in capacity from 600 to 1,400 megawatts, but the board chose the 1,000 megawatt option.
Scott Banbury, conservation program coordinator for the statewide Sierra Club, is calling the move a win because the smaller generation capacity for the gas plant leaves more room for the TVA to work with solar and wind options. Johnson said at the meeting that they plan to diversify their generation portfolio with more renewable options as they become more reliable and cost-effective.
“We can save money, decrease pollution and ensure that the proposed gas plant is used sparingly with strategic investment in key renewable resources, like wind, solar and energy efficiency," Banbury said. "These twenty-first century solutions to our energy needs will save consumers money while creating good-paying jobs right here in Tennessee.”
The closure will mean a reduction in jobs at the site. The Allen coal plant requires more workers than a natural gas plant will, but TVA's Ashley Farless has stated that the company will work to shift displaced workers into other jobs with TVA or try to help them find new jobs using the skills they have gained at the TVA. Banbury has previously stated that if the TVA adds more renewable capacity, those displaced workers could take jobs in the wind and solar sectors.
To read more about the TVA's decision, check out last week's Memphis Flyer cover story.