gainst the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) surprise decision last November to shutter two of the three coal-burning units at the 2,558-megawatt (MW) Paradise Steam Plant on the Green River in Muhlenberg County, the largest generating station in the commonwealth. Among other things, they want to know if the big plant that has towered over the nearby town of Drakesboro since the 1960s is among the latest, higher-profile victims in President Barack Obama’s so-called “war on coal.”
The former rural community of Paradise was torn down in the 1960s to make way for the power plant. In 1971, folk singer John Prine recorded “Paradise,” a song about the impact of coal mining on a small community.
Now, Attorney General Jack Conway and State Rep. Brent Yonts, both Democrats, warn TVA’s planned retirement in a few years of two of the plant’s three units could have a significant economic effect on a part of western Kentucky that still relies heavily on coal, both mining and power plant jobs, and on the electricity rates of consumers. They have accused the federally owned utility of a “lack of transparency” in the runup to the TVA board of directors November 13 decision.
The board voted to close Paradise Units 1 and 2, representing 1,408 MW, while keeping open Unit 3, rated at 1,150 MW. Together, the three units consume more than 7 million tons of thermal coal annually, much of it from Kentucky.
Rep. Yonts, a veteran lawmaker whose district includes Muhlenberg County, said he attended the November board meeting in neighboring Tennessee and believes the Paradise decision was made “in a vacuum.”
He suspects TVA may have reacted to “some pressure from EPA” to continue reducing its traditional dependence on coal. Although the Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly has denied waging a war against coal, and Obama reiterated his support for an “all of the above” national energy strategy during his January 28 State of the Union address, many coal industry officials doubt the veracity of those statements.
Separately, Conway and Yonts forwarded requests to TVA seeking a raft of documents to justify the TVA board’s decision on Paradise. Conway, for instance, demanded economic impact studies and modeling data compiled by TVA to support the proposed closing of units 1 and 2. Both officials also questioned whether TVA conducted sufficient public forums for residents, especially from Kentucky, to voice their opinions about the federal utility’s 2011 integrated resource plan.
“TVA needs to be more transparent in its decision-making given the drastic effects these resource planning decisions will have on ratepayers in the TVA service territory, including ratepayers in Kentucky that are my constituents,” said Conway, in his second, four-year term as the state’s top law enforcement officer. “To date, I am concerned with the lack of transparency in the coal shutdown decisions,” as well as TVA’s decision to hold only two National Environmental Policy Act scoping meetings related to its resource planning process.
Both of those scoping sessions were in Tennessee, Conway noted, “notwithstanding the fact that TVA has a seven-state service territory that includes Kentucky.”
Yonts, a legislator for the past 17 years, said he found it curious there was “no debate or discussion” prior to the board’s vote on Paradise. “There was just a motion read from the [agenda] book and somebody seconded it,” he recalled. “It was a little bit chaotic in my view. It was not organized and democratic.”
In mid-January, TVA sent a letter reply to Conway. In it, TVA defended its due diligence that resulted in the November decision. “During the scoping process,” it said, “TVA held two meetings in Tennessee that were on opposite ends of the Valley, in Memphis and Knoxville. Both meetings allowed for in-person or webinar attendance to reduce costs and make participation easier by more people at more geographic locations.”
Moreover, TVA received more than 1,100 comments through comment forms, emails and letters, with almost 45 from individuals, organizations and companies in Kentucky, TVA said.
A key outcome from the 2011 Integrated Resource Plan, TVA added, “was the direction to better balance TVA’s energy resource portfolio as resource decisions are made. TVA intends to keep coal generation as a resource option in the portfolio. We also remain committed to maintaining generation resources in Kentucky.”
Along those lines, the TVA board is proposing to construct a power plant fueled by natural gas in Muhlenberg County to replace Paradise Units 1 and 2. The project would cost more than $1 billion and create almost 1,000 construction jobs. TVA has not yet said when construction would start and when the plant would be in commercial operation.
In late January, Daniel Kemp, a spokesman for Conway, said TVA’s response was still under review by the attorney general’s office.