The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Enviros to TVA: Retire the fossil-fuel pacifier

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Cumberland FPTVA’s Cumberland Fossil Plant near Clarksville is the subject of a suit filed by environmental groups, including Appalachian Voices and Southern Environmental Law Center.  Tennessee Valley Authority

SELC, others file suit in hopes of dissuading TVA from future fossil options

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

CLARKSVILLE — On behalf of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, the Southern Environmental Law Center asked TVA to prepare a supplemental environmental statement to address concerns with TVA’s draft environmental impact statement, which details the agency’s plans to retire the Cumberland Fossil Plant.

The Cumberland Fossil Plant, about 22 miles southwest of Clarksville, is TVA’s largest coal-fired power station and was built between 1968 and 1973. TVA plans to retire each unit of the two-unit, coal-fired steam-generation plant separately: one unit no later than 2030, and the second unit no later than 2033. But the plant will need to be replaced, and TVA is currently considering three alternatives to fossil fuel, including natural gas and solar energy, according to its draft EIS.

(Tennessee Valley Authority already plans to close down the Knoxville-area Bull Run fossil plant in Claxton next year).

Since the initial draft was submitted in May 2021, TVA has publicly said it planned to replace the coal plant with natural gas and a 32-mile pipeline to transport gas to the plant to reach its goal of “net-zero” decarbonization by 2050.

But members of the two conservation groups said they were concerned with TVA’s current plans to retire the plant and noted that community groups and federal agencies have pushed back on agency plans.

“The Cumberland Fossil Plant is one of the dirtiest power plants in the nation, and its retirement is long overdue. But instead of using the retirement as an opportunity to transition toward a clean energy future, TVA is planning to double-down on dirty fossil fuels of the past by replacing the aging plant with a new ‘natural gas’ plant and pipeline,” said SELC director Amanda Garcia.

Garcia said concerns include how low-income communities will continue to be affected by TVA projects. TVA officials evaluated areas near the Cumberland plant but did not consider environmental justice and populations impacted disproportionately by pollution, advocates said.

The Environmental Protection Agency also noted substantial issues with TVA’s draft EIS and “strongly recommends the proposed action be modified or a different preferred alternative be selected.”

Conservation groups have argued that TVA needed to submit a new plan in response to the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which offers tax credits and incentives for renewable energy, and climate change.

“The utility’s multi-billion-dollar gas buildout will worsen the impacts of climate change and commit TVA’s customers to paying for expensive fossil fuels for decades to come. Just this summer, TVA increased fees to pay for high methane gas prices,”  Garcia said.

According to TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks, TVA is considering all comments and requests made since the draft release to be included in the final EIS, which is expected to be published by the end of the year.

“It’s premature to speculate on the outcome of the current EIS, which was released in draft form for public input earlier this year,” Brooks said.

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