TVA Takes First Small Steps Toward Closing Its Largest (And Dirtiest) Power Plant

May 12, 2021

Cumberland Fossil Plant is TVA's largest and most polluting coal plant, with two coal-fired units that can power more than a million homes.
Credit Shalina Chatlani | WPLN News (file)

Tennessee’s electric utility is starting the long process that could eventually lead to closure of its most-polluting coal plant.

Tennessee Valley Authority Jeff Lyash has already announced this month that it plans to end all coal power generation by 2035. And TVA spokesman Scott Brooks says the utility is beginning the preliminary review with the Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County, which has two separate coal-fired units.

“These are the two largest coal units we have in our fleet,” Brooks says. “So if there’s any logic to it, it would make sense that we would start with our two largest units.”

The Cumberland plant produces enough power for more than 1 million homes. It also releases 8 million tons of carbon emissions into the air each year, as well as especially high mercury releases into the Cumberland River, according to the Sierra Club of Tennessee.

“This is an opportunity for TVA to show that it is listening to the people of the Tennessee Valley when they ask for clean technologies such as solar power and battery storage,” says JoAnn McIntosh, a Sierra Club representative in Clarksville.

TVA has four remaining coal sites operating, including the one in Stewart County and one in Gallatin. Another is in Kingston, with the fourth being Shawnee in Kentucky. All four would close or convert to other fuels by 2035.

The question right now at Cumberland is whether to keep the coal plant running or shut the units down ahead of schedule and transition to natural gas and solar at the site. So TVA is drafting a formal environmental report that will include feedback from the community and environmental advocates.

A virtual feedback session (registration here) has been scheduled for May 27, with written comments accepted by emailing this address through June 10. Documents related to the study can be downloaded here.