Tennessee Valley Authority plans to replace coal with gas | News from USA®


By TRAVIS LOLLER, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – The nation’s largest utility is considering shutting down three of its five remaining coal-fired power plants, saying they are old and no longer practical. But despite President Joe Biden’s goal of a carbon-free energy sector by 2035, the Tennessee Valley Authority, an independent federal agency, is considering replacing lost megawatts of coal with another carbon-producing fuel – natural gas.

In a public hearing this week on the proposed shutdown of the Kingston fossil plant, TVA Senior Director of Corporate Planning Jane Elliott highlighted that gas offers reliability and flexibility as a fuel. can be used at any time of the day. Solar only generates energy about 25% of the time, Elliott said, so “you have to add more solar energy to get the same amount of energy from gas.”

Gas is also currently cheaper than solar, Elliott said, although prices are coming down and solar is expected to become cheaper towards the end of the decade.

Samantha Gross, director of the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative, said reliability and flexibility are real considerations, but TVA already has a lot with its current gas and hydroelectric plants. Any new gas plant will likely be in place for decades, well beyond Biden’s 2035 target to decarbonize.

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“It’s important,” Gross said of the goal. “We’re fried if we don’t.”

Scientists have warned that failure to meet this target will only lead to more intense and frequent extreme weather events, as well as droughts, floods and forest fires.

TVA’s plants in Kingston and Cumberland together generate approximately 3,900 megawatts of electricity. The utility is not looking to replace the electricity lost as a result of the closure of its smaller Bull Run plant, but for the other two, the utility is looking at three replacement alternatives. Two of them are different types of gas plants. The third option is renewable energy – most likely solar energy – plus storage.

The utility already plans to add 10,000 megawatts of solar power to its system by 2035, but that won’t replace coal-fired power plants. Utilities spokesman Scott Brooks said most of that money will go to large industrial customers like Google who want to power their facilities with renewable energy.

Marilyn Brown is a professor of energy policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology and served on the board of TVA from 2010 to 2017. She said what the TVA proposals lack is to completely reduce the need for the next generation. electric. This can be done through greater investments in energy efficiency and demand response, which means helping customers change their usage patterns to smooth out peak demand periods.

Responding to demand can drop a load as quickly as starting a gas turbine to meet that load, Brown said. “Why not help people control their thermostats and appliances when production is scarce? As an example, she said, studies have shown that you can turn off the air conditioning for 17 minutes in an hour without any noticeable difference.

One of the challenges is that TVA does not sell electricity directly to households. Instead, it is done through 153 local electricity providers. But Brown said it was a challenge they can overcome. Going all the way on gas would be a reverse solution, but “the risks are low and they know how to do it,” Brown said. “The problem is to move the public service in a direction with which it is not so familiar.

Meanwhile, critics say TVA has already failed to accurately assess the environmental impacts of a separate proposal to add new gas turbines to its Paradise plant in Kentucky and its Colbert plant in Alabama. TVA’s draft environmental impact statement says these additions will not negatively impact greenhouse gas emissions or climate change, as the utility cuts emissions elsewhere in the system.

A group of seven environmental organizations wrote to TVA, calling their analysis flawed and in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. “If the construction of new gas-fired power plants does not have a negative impact on climate change, nothing does,” the letter said.

TVA chairman Jeff Lyash said earlier this year that the utility is on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2035, from 2005 levels. He said that ‘they would not be able to achieve the 100% reduction target without technological advances in energy storage, carbon capture and small modular nuclear reactors. The utility has its own ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Any final decision on whether to shut down coal-fired power plants and what to replace them with will have to be approved by TVA’s board of directors.

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