Despite outspoken opposition from President Trump, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) voted in February to close two of the Southeast’s largest coal power plants.
The decision, which affects the Paradise power plant in Kentucky and the Bull Run plant in Tennessee, comes as each plant has outlived its planned life by more than 10 years. The TVA estimates that closing the plant will save the power utility approximately $1.3 billion in upgrade costs, and won’t make a significant dent in the region’s power supply since each plant is only able to run less than 10% of the time at present.
Despite the economic pressure to close the plants, political pressure to keep them open remains strong. Senator McConnell in particular published multiple statements pushing the TVA to invest in upgrading the plants, while President Trump called out the Paradise plant in a tweet.
However, the sources that the TVA gets it power from is changing on a larger scale than any individual plants. The utility has found that electricity demand in the region is roughly flat, and estimates that switching from coal towards renewable, nuclear, and natural gas has already saved over $1 billion in recent years. In addition, the TVA found that closing the Bull Run plant alone would cut the utility’s smog production by 11.5% and its total greenhouse gas emissions by 4%.
The fight over power in the Southeast and across the US is likely far from over, as officials ranging from local to national offices push back against the transition away from coal. In the meantime, though, environmental groups are celebrating the closures of the Paradise and Bull Run power plants as a victory over legacy fossil fuel-based energy solutions.