TVA plans two-year study to decide future for coal ash at Bull Run plant

Local News

Tennessee Valley Authority leaders shared some of their progress on making future plans for the Bull Run coal plant in Anderson County.

Their first priority is what to do with all the coal ash that’s accumulated after more than 50 years of burning coal. New TVA CEO Jeffrey Lyash explained the work behind a final ash disposal action plan, which could take more than two years to form. 

It’s a lesson taken to heart following the Roane County ash spill. Lyash said since the spill, they’ve made changes to ensure their Dam Safety Program meets the highest standards, they transition from wet ash handling to dry ash handling, look closer at the “process” water on their sites to ensure water quality, find long-term solutions for ash storage that are site specific. 

Throughout the process of bringing Bull Run to a close, he said he plans encourage stakeholder input and maintain open communication. 

Through a study by engineering and environmental experts, TVA leaders hope to find the best path forward. Lyash explained they’ll be taking off-site samples, analyzing groundwater patterns, and adding monitoring stations at their current storage sites.

“We’re going to spend whatever is necessary to do this right. If it takes additional study funds, we’ll spend those. If the solution that comes out of those is a more expensive solution, we’ll undertake that solution. The balance is we never want to waste the money of the people of the Tennessee Valley, if it’s unwarranted. If it’s warranted, it’ll be done,” he said. 

Decades of burning coal to keep lights on throughout the Tennessee Valley leaves behind decades of ash and other byproducts. They hope this study finds the best way to dispose of it. 

Their plan is to run Bull Run through 2023, then begin the decommission and dismantle phase, which includes whatever strategy leaders agree on for removing ash. Serious discussion about the future of the site will then become the priority discussion. Lyash said he hopes it can become something to benefit the local economy.

He said “that is something that has been done elsewhere. We’ve done it on our sites as lately as just a few months ago, attracting Google to a former coal-powered site. That’s what we would hope would happen to the bull run site.”

Lyash explained the plant is still vital and keeps the system reliable and serving our area. In fact, they’ll have to build some transmission to replace the output of the plant. 

In February, spokesperson Scott Brooks explained the Bull Run plant doesn’t run as much as it used to or as often as it could run. Its inefficiencies are ultimately, he explained, why TVA leaders opted to close the plant in 2023. 

The disposal plan could include excavating parts of their stockpile, securing parts in place, or finding a way to repurpose some ash. In the case of the coal plant in Gallatin, it was a combination of the three options.

“Our focus at TVA is going to be [to] make sure people have access to the information, that they understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Lyash added. 

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