Google searches out soon-to-be-former coal plant site at TVA for data center

The Tennessee Valley Authority announced June 24 that internet company Google has chosen TVA’s Widows Creek soon-to-be retired coal plant site in North Alabama to build its newest data center – the 14th across the globe.

Joining TVA’s President and CEO Bill Johnson and TVA Chairman Joe Ritch in the announcement were Robert Bentley, Governor of Alabama, local and state officials and Gary Demasi, Google Director of Data Center Energy and Location Strategy.

“This is a big day for TVA,” Bill Johnson said. “The partnership between the Alabama Department of Commerce, Jackson County Economic Development Authority, and TVA helped secure an innovative, global technology company to the Valley.”

TVA’s board of directors approved the closure of Widows Creek earlier this year following EPA’s release of coal combustion rules requiring additional environmental and financial requirements.

“The coal plant will be in operation for a few more months and we appreciate the hard-working employees who remain dedicated to generating electricity safely at Widows Creek,” Johnson said. “This facility has served TVA well since it started operating in 1952; so the decision to close Widows Creek was not easy, and is especially hard on our employees and their families. We are thankful for this exciting new opportunity for jobs in northern Alabama.”

“Selecting the Widows Creek site to build our newest data center came after an extensive search,” said Demasi. “The idea of repurposing a former coal generating site and powering our new facility with renewable energy – especially reliable, affordable energy that we can count on 24/7 with the existing infrastructure in place – was attractive.”

TVA noted that it currently has 23 primary data center sites available across its seven-state service area. Google will invest $600 million in this project and will bring quality jobs to northern Alabama and the TVA region.

As TVA continues to develop a cleaner, more diverse energy portfolio, it is reviewing the future of the land and physical structures associated with its retired coal-fired plants.

The TVA board of directors voted May 7 to close the last remaining coal unit at the Widows Creek plant later this year. 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule on Coal Combustion Residue or coal ash. Unit 8 at Widows Creek was retired last fall.

The Widows Creek plant, named for a creek that flows through the plant site, is located on the Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River in northeast Alabama. Widows Creek began generating power in 1952. Units 1 through 6 were retired in stages between May 2012 and July 2013. Unit 8 was shut in October 2014. The soon-to-be-history Unit 7 currently generates 460 MW.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.