TVA Votes to Close Coal-Fired Power Plant in Kentucky

Feb 14, 2019

Credit Becca Schimmel

A federal utility board voted Thursday to close a coal-fired power plant in Kentucky, despite objections from President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a move the board says will save its more than 10 million customers $320 million.

The Tennessee Valley Authority voted to retire the remaining coal-fired unit at the Paradise Fossil Plant along the Green River in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. The decision could put 131 people out of work and could affect an additional 135 people who work in nearby coal mines that supply the plant.

The board also voted to close the Bull Run Fossil Plant near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, by December 2023.

"It is not about coal. This decision is about economics," TVA CEO Bill Johnson said. "It's about keeping rates as low as feasible."

The decision continues the TVA's trend of retiring its aging coal-fired power plants in favor of cheaper and cleaner energy sources, including natural gas. At one time, Muhlenberg County was the nation's top coal producer, inspiring folk singer John Prine to pen his 1971 standard "Paradise."

But since then, the coal industry has declined as energy companies look for more efficient ways to produce power. Johnson noted the Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky opened in the 1960s and was designed to produce power all the time. Much of that energy is wasted during low-usage times, such as early in the morning.

But the Trump administration has vowed to save the coal industry, the heart of which is in an Appalachian region that overwhelmingly voted for him in the 2016 presidential election. Trump tweeted Monday that "Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix," and urged the TVA to "give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!"

Suppliers of the plant include a mine owned by one of Trump's campaign donors.

TVA board members serve five-year terms and are appointed by the president. So far, Trump has appointed four of the board's nine members. But with two vacancies, that gave Trump appointees a 4-3 majority.

Trump's tweet wasn't enough to persuade the board on Thursday. It appeared the only "no" vote came from Kenny Allen, a retired coal executive who lives in Kentucky.

"I'm just not completely comfortable with the recommendation because the impact and ripple effect on community cannot be fully quantified," he said.