Environment News

The End of an Era: TVA Shuts Down Its Only Single-Unit Coal Plant

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has officially retired its Bull Run Fossil Plant, the only single-unit coal-fired power plant in its system. The plant, which had been operating since 1967, was closed on December 1, 2023, as part of TVA’s plan to reduce its carbon footprint and transition to cleaner energy sources.

Bull Run’s Legacy and Challenges

Bull Run Fossil Plant was located on 750 acres in the Claxton community of Anderson County, Tennessee, on the north bank of Bull Run Creek, directly across the Clinch River from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The plant had a summer net capability of 865 megawatts, enough to power more than 500,000 homes at once. It also generated approximately 6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year.

The plant was a technological marvel when it was built, becoming the largest in the world in the volume of steam produced. It also received the Best Heat Rate award in the U.S. 14 times during its lifecycle, indicating its high efficiency and low fuel consumption.

However, the plant also faced several challenges and controversies over the years, such as environmental impacts, maintenance issues, and public opposition. The plant was cited for violating the Clean Air Act in 2011, and was sued by environmental groups for leaking coal ash into the Clinch River in 2019. The plant also experienced several outages and fires that disrupted its operations and raised safety concerns.

The End of an Era: TVA Shuts Down Its Only Single-Unit Coal Plant

TVA’s Decision and Future Plans

TVA announced its decision to retire Bull Run Fossil Plant on February 14, 2019, after a detailed review of fuel, transmission, economic and environmental impacts, as well as public input. The decision was part of TVA’s long-term vision to move toward the energy system of the future, focusing on cleaner energy generation in its future portfolio.

TVA said that retiring Bull Run would save it $320 million over the next 20 years, and would reduce its carbon emissions by 1.2 million tons per year. TVA also said that it had enough generation capacity to meet the demand without Bull Run, and that it would invest in transmission upgrades and renewable energy projects to ensure reliability and resilience.

TVA is currently evaluating the future use of the Bull Run site, including potential opportunities to maintain grid stability based on its strategic geographic location in the TVA service territory. TVA said that it would work with the local community and stakeholders to explore options for redevelopment and reuse of the site, as well as address the environmental remediation and decommissioning of the plant.

Community Reaction and Implications

The closure of Bull Run Fossil Plant has elicited mixed reactions from the community and the stakeholders. Some have welcomed the decision as a positive step for the environment and public health, while others have expressed concerns over the loss of jobs, tax revenue, and local identity.

The plant employed approximately 60 area residents, who were offered severance packages, retraining opportunities, and relocation assistance by TVA. The plant also contributed about $3 million annually in property taxes to Anderson County, which will be reduced by 75% over the next four years. The plant also had a strong presence and partnership in the community, supporting local schools, charities, and events.

The closure of Bull Run also has broader implications for the coal industry and the energy sector in the region and the nation. Bull Run was one of the 17 coal plants that TVA has retired since 2010, reducing its coal generation from 58% to 14% of its total output. TVA plans to retire another coal plant, Cumberland Fossil Plant, by 2033, and aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The retirement of Bull Run also reflects the national trend of coal plant closures, driven by market forces, environmental regulations, and public pressure. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than 300 coal plants have been retired since 2010, and coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation has fallen from 45% to 19%. The agency projects that coal will be surpassed by renewable energy sources by 2026.

The end of Bull Run Fossil Plant marks the end of an era for TVA and the coal industry, and the beginning of a new one for the energy system and the environment.


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