Last Widows Creek coal unit to close by end of October

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) board of directors voted May 7 to close the last remaining coal-burning generation unit at the Widows Creek power plant in Alabama later this year due to passage of tougher federal rules on disposal of coal ash.

The board voted, without opposition, to accept the recommendation of TVA management to close Widows Creek Unit 7 by the end of October. The retirement date of the last coal unit has been moved up a few years due to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s new rule on Coal Combustion Residue or coal ash, said TVA Executive Vice President and COO Chip Pardee.

Unit 8 at Widows Creek was retired last fall.

The EPA coal ash rule was signed in December of last year and only published in the Federal Register last month, Pardee said.

“We looked at options,” including keeping the plant open and moving ash to other disposal sites, Pardee said. “There are compelling reasons to close the plant later this year” and then go about closing the ash ponds, Pardee said.

The exact date of the plant closure is yet to be determined but the EPA coal residue rule will take effect in October, Pardee said.

“We do have sufficient reserve margin [to meet power demand] even given an earlier retirement date at Widows Creek than we had earlier anticipated,” Pardee said in response to a board question.  GenerationHub lists the operating capacity of the remaining coal unit at 473 MW.

“We have been planning for this” at the entire TVA coal fleet, Pardee said. “We are prepared for those [new rules] at our other stations,” Pardee said.

TVA Chairman Joe Ritch noted the Widows Creek impact on Jackson County, Ala. It’s the same county that is also home to TVA’s Bellefonte site, which has long been an on-again, off-again project site for a nuclear plant.

During a public comment period before the board meeting, Monty Adams of Sherwood Mining, the limestone provider for Widows Creek, urged TVA to delay the closing of Widows Creek by a few years in order to ensure electric reliability and give communities time to adjust toward the change.

TVA officials said the federal utility would do everything possible to minimize the impact of the Widows Creek closure.

The closure will “have a hard effect” on people who work at the plant, said TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson. Johnson said he wanted to speak directly to Widows Creek employees who might be watching the webcast of the board meeting. “There is a lot of work to do before the plant retires … let’s be safe … and let’s have the high level of work that we expect from you,” Johnson said.

TVA will sell off land parcels around Kingston coal ash spill

Speaking of coal ash, the TVA board also authorized sale of almost 77 acres near the Kingston, Tenn., coal plant. The 68 parcels of land were not directly affected by the massive coal ash spill that occurred in December 2008, said TVA Vice President Shared Services Ric Perez.

Instead the areas were used to house workers during the long-running cleanup operations, Perez said. TVA thinks it is now best to return the properties back to private ownership and “normalcy” around Kingston.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.