Monday, June 29, 2009

TVA and The Real Cost of Burning Coal

With temperatures in recent days hitting 90 and above, residents in Tennessee rely on burning coal to keep them cool, thanks to TVA. But what are the short term and long term costs? With some 60% of TVA's energy coming from burning coal, they have no plans to shift their current strategy.

Some of TVA's oldest, dirtiest and least efficient coal units should have been phased out years ago and replaced with renewable power," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a former member of TVA's Regional Resource Stewardship Council.

Matt Landon, a volunteer leader of a 4-year-old group fighting against coal usage in East Tennessee -- United Mountain Defense -- blames coal plants for much of Tennessee's air pollution.

"From the cradle to the grave, coal is dirty and destroys our environment," said Mr. Landon, who was arrested by TVA police in March for trespassing on the site of a major ash spill in Kingston.

In its 76-year history, TVA has shut down only one coal plant -- the former Watts Bar Steam Plant in Rhea County. But TVA officials said the agency also is studying whether it still makes sense to maintain and upgrade its oldest plants, including units in Johnsonville and Widows Creek which already are senior citizen age.

A federal judge has ordered TVA to install scrubbers on the six oldest units at its Widows Creek Fossil Plant near Stevenson, Ala., within the next five years. Mr. Kilgore said the agency is now studying the costs of installing the court-ordered pollution controls. To recover such an investment, the units normally would be expected to operate for at least another two decades."

Meanwhile, state officials and the TDEC want more transparency on how coal and coal ash are handled in Tennessee:

Following the catastrophic failure of the TVA Kingston Plant coal ash impoundment on Dec. 22, 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviewed coal ash impoundments across the country.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has apparently requested the results of that review not be made available to the public. Irrespective of the Corps' recommendations regarding nationwide sites, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation believes transparency is important and is committed to sharing results of our own state review with the public.When Gov. Phil Bredesen visited Kingston shortly after the failure, he stressed the need for transparency in the monitoring and cleanup to help assure citizens what appropriate steps were being taken to protect public health and minimize environmental impacts of the failure. Among other directives, he asked the department to begin immediately posting results of water, air and soil testing online so the public could access information easily and directly."

We're stuck on coal. Not clean coal or green energy - just plain old coal, same as we were decades ago.

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