TVA Board of Directors deciding fate of Bull Run plant at Thursday board meeting

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FILE - Bull Run Fossil Plant in Anderosn County, Tennessee.

FILE – Bull Run Fossil Plant in Anderosn County, Tennessee.

The Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors will consider the fate of two coal plants, one of them being the Bull Run Fossil Plant in Anderson County. 

TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks says there are more than 100 employees at the facility. While he says they’ll work to help find employment for those impacted, he says 40 percent of those at the Bull Run site are eligible for retirement. 

Regardless of the board’s decision Thursday, Brooks says reports show Bull Run hasn’t been running as often as it used to or as often as it could.

The chief issue with the more-than 50-year-old site is efficiency. The matter before the board, according to Brooks, is if the investment costs, such as upgrading and maintaining the plant, purchasing storage for coal ash, is worth it. 

“In the winter time, we have demand spikes in the morning hours when people turn up their heat and turn on their appliances. In the summer, we have demand loads that peak in the evenings when people come home and crank up their air conditioning and we have to follow those loads throughout the day, throughout the week, and a lot of coal plants, especially the older ones, the bigger ones are not meant to do that.” 

Because the older ones like Bull Run and Paradise Unit 3 run constantly, he explains, they’re more expensive to follow loads.

He cites a more modern coal facility in Kingston, which uses nine units, allowing plant officials to turn them on and off separately instead of operating one unit.

“TVA is having to follow loads were demand goes up and down. Coal units, like Bull Run, have a hard time going online and going back down. You can’t run a coal unit very often at 50 percent because it’s meant to run at 100 percent.”

“The reality is Bull Run has not been running as often as it used to or as often as it could in the last year or two years and there has been no impact to the residential customer, to the business customers.”

Basically, due to their diverse portfolio, one producer couldn’t bring down the whole system. 

He explains TVA’s overall strategy to ensure no lapse in coverage for its customers, and for sustainability, is having a diverse portfolio.

While coal may often be the center of the debate, it only accounts for roughly 20% of TVA’s power grid.

The other part of the grid is made up of nuclear power, hydropower, natural gas, and renewable energy.

“TVA would not make a recommendation if there was a concern for impacts on residential and business customers,” Scott added. 

Brooks wanted to emphasize Wednesday the research isn’t just based on efficiency and cost, but other factors like the impact on the TVA system as well as the communities impacted by the potential closures were taken into consideration.

He says four studies were done internally over the last six months. The studies look at: grid impact, fuel supply, economic impact, and environmental assessment.

Thursday, the board will either:

  • a) shut down the plan,
  • b) keep the plant open, or
  • c) table the discussion for a later date.

While the studies focused on different aspects, he says they all came to the same conclusion: Shut both plants down.

Brooks says TVA has shut down many coal plant in the last five years. He says they worked with families impacted by the closures, worked with local unions, and looked to find them work at other jobs in the TVA system. 

While it could close, TVA has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the plan in the last decade and a half.

Those investments went to meeting clean air requirements, like scrubbers and emission control and more recently, additional property for anticipated coal ash storage. If the plant were to stay open, they’d have to buy more land. Brooks says their current capacity will hold another five years of ash. 

Brooks says Anderson County and Oak Ridge City officials have expressed interest in developing the cite if it were to close. Brooks also says TVA worked to ensure previously closed sites were able to be developed after leaving them vacant. He cited the closure of the John Sevier in upper East Tennessee and the Alan plant in Memphis. 

Joe Hensley retired from Bull Run in 1994. He spent 25 years keeping the lights on by working as a pipe fitter.

“Years ago, that was the most efficient plant in the TVA system. In fact, at one time, it was the most efficient in the world, so it’s hard for me to imagine now that it’s not,” he said.

He’s accepted the changing times and understands a need for a more diverse, and more modern portfolio, but says it’s still hard not to be sentimental toward the plant he started work in 1969. 

When Hensley started, coal was still king.

The grid in the late ’60s, Hensley says, was so dependent on coal, keeping Bull Run online was a major priority. He says if they failed for too long and it went down, TVA would have had to buy additional power from other suppliers.

Hensley would like to see the plant serve as a backup if TVA ever needed it. He’s also willing to see it become be developed into something that would create jobs in Anderson County.

“It served a lot of people and it served them well,” he said. 

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