The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Tuesday, 06 February 2024 00:14

TVA plans for Bull Run Fossil Plant site remain hazy

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Claxton coal plantA public playground near the site of the since-decommissioned Bull Run coal plant in Claxton, Tenn. Tennessee Valley Authority is weighing options for the site’s future.  Abigail Baxter/Hellbender Press

Solar production and public green space remain options; coal ash questions remain

CLAXTONTennessee Valley Authority will demolish most structures at Bull Run Fossil Plant but has not yet shared plans for the ultimate disposition or reuse of the property.

Bull Run Fossil Plant was a coal-fired plant in the Claxton community, located just outside of Oak Ridge in Anderson County, Tenn. The plant opened in 1967. TVA closed it in 2023, and plans to phase out all its coal fired plants by 203.

The utility and its spokesman Scott Brooks have listed the scrubbers, coal handling structures and the large chimney, nicknamed the “lighthouse” by locals, as structures that will likely come down.

TVA has listed some possibilities for the site, including battery storage, park areas, “economic development” and a synchronous condenser, which is a device meant to keep the overall grid's power supply stable without generating any power of its own. This last option would involve keeping and repurposing the turbine building. TVA has not committed to any of these ideas.

TVA says its final decisions will come after environmental reviews and “community feedback on the preferred best use.” But in the meantime, here’s what we know about some of the ideas TVA is considering:

Ash questions

Environmentalists, nearby residents and local media have raised concerns about the coal ash stored on the site, which can pose environmental and health hazards. A report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice using TVA data showed unsafe levels of lithium, arsenic, boron and molybdenum in nearby groundwater.

Brooks said the utility hadn't made any decisions about the coal ash. It's going through a process ordered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to decide how to handle it.

Park and power potential?

In 2020, three years before closing the plant, TVA showed a picture of how the site might look in the future to officials from Anderson County and Oak Ridge, a town just across the river. It has stressed all of these ideas were just concepts, then as now.

The rendering showed new bike lanes added to an existing bridge crossing Melton Hill Lake and mountain bike trails in the nearby woods. An island would sport a park with a landing. The picture showed a “potential development area” near the site of the old power plant itself, which Brooks described as a possible site for a private company’s data center.

More controversially, TVA proposed holding the site’s coal ash in place with various layers of protection material, capped off by solar panels which would generate power.

Four years later, however, TVA isn’t saying for certain if any of these ideas will go forward, though last December it listed “establishing a portion of the area to a green space for community use,” and “adding new (power) generation” and “pursuing economic development opportunities” as some of the possible uses for the Bull Run Fossil Plant site.

“All previous options are still on the table,” Brooks stated in an email this year.

Brooks said TVA plans to try a solar array over coal ash landfill impoundments at the Shawnee Fossil Plant in Kentucky before trying it at Bull Run Fossil Plant and other former coal plants. If TVA considers the project successful in Kentucky, it may try similar ones elsewhere.

Support for solar

Even if TVA doesn't generate any power directly at Bull Run Fossil Plant, it's looking at expanding its use of solar energy to 10,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2035. It's also looking at how the Bull Run Fossil Plant site might support that goal even if it doesn't generate power of its own.

Brooks explained one issue with solar power is that it can be unsteady. TVA in a news release last December promoted using the current turbine building at the Bull Run site for a synchronous condenser which could help solve problems with supply and demand spikes that might occur as TVA switches to solar energy in its grid.

“Think of electricity as water. It flows and is “pressurized’ aka voltage. When voltage is impacted by intermittent flows like those created by solar energy, TVA still needs to keep the ‘pressure’ consistent across the system. That’s what a synchronous condenser is designed to do — boost the voltage/pressure to keep it steady,” Brooks stated.

TVA project manager Bob Rehberg is still looking at the synchronous condenser idea for Bull Run and said he will wait for the TVA Board of Directors to make the final decision. But he and Nate Schweighart, general manager of Transmission Planning, spoke positively about the idea.

“Our older fossil plants are perfect for this solution,” Schweighart said. “They already have the existing infrastructure, transmission lines, etc. And in Bull Run’s case, it’s located in a key strategic geographic location in the TVA service territory to provide grid stability in a largely populated area.”

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Last modified on Tuesday, 06 February 2024 00:37