WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), which oversees the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), sent a letter to TVA Chair of the Board of Directors Richard Howorth asking several questions about tomorrow’s vote on the potential phase out and retirement of two coal-fired power plants in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Senator Carper questioned how the board, in making this decision, is continuing its practice of acting on behalf of ratepayers and public health—and asked whether the board’s process has been influenced by the Murray Energy Corporation or by the Bob Murray “Action Plan,” which called for the replacement of TVA’s board of directors. Paradise Fossil Plant in Drakesboro, Kentucky is primarily fueled with coal supplied by Murray Energy.
In a tweet Monday night, President Trump wrote: “Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix and @TVAnews should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!”
“I have long encouraged TVA to be an industry leader, not a laggard, when it comes to energy reliability, energy costs and protecting public health,” Senator Carper wrote. “I expressed this sentiment to you personally when you were last before the committee, as I did to your other TVA Board Members. I believe TVA has made great strides on all of these fronts, especially when it comes to increasing energy efficiency and reducing pollution that effects the valley’s air and water. My hope is that TVA continues on this path, which has been good for the environment and for ratepayers.”
A PDF of the letter can be found HERE, and full text of the letter is below:
February 13, 2019
The Honorable Richard Howorth
Chair of the Board of Directors
Tennessee Valley Authority
400 W. Summit Hill Dr. SW
Knoxville, TN 37902
Dear Chairman Howorth:
I write concerning the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) upcoming vote on the potential phase out and retirement of the Paradise Fossil Plant and Bull Run Fossil Plant. I encourage the TVA Board to do what is right for the TVA ratepayers.
During my service on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees TVA, I have long encouraged TVA to be an industry leader, not a laggard, when it comes to energy reliability, energy costs and protecting public health. I expressed this sentiment to you personally when you were last before the committee, as I did to your other TVA Board Members. I believe TVA has made great strides on all of these fronts, especially when it comes to increasing energy efficiency and reducing pollution that effects the valley’s air and water. My hope is that TVA continues on this path, which has been good for the environment and for ratepayers.
It is my understanding that as far back as 2004, TVA decided to invest more dollars in diversifying its energy portfolio, which meant divesting away from older coal plants and more into clean energy, most notably nuclear power. TVA knew then, as it knows now, that the costs of running TVA’s oldest coal plants did not make sense long-term for TVA ratepayers. Today, with Watts Bar Plant running at full capacity and other investments in clean energy, TVA must make additional changes in its portfolio to keep ratepayer costs low and meet lower energy demands.
As a former Governor, I know it is never easy on a community to close a local industrial plant, much less a local coal plant which provides good-paying jobs for hundreds of workers. Fortunately when creating TVA, Congress directed the agency to keep electricity rates “as low as feasible” and encourage economic development in the area it serves. TVA has been successful at meeting both of these objectives in the last decade by bringing in new economic opportunities to closing facilities. For example, TVA’s investments in a co-generation facility at the retired Johnsonville Fossil Plant outside Nashville, TN preserved 1,100 jobs in the area. TVA also successfully attracted Google to build a $600 million data center at the site of retired coal units at the northern Alabama Widows Creek Fossil Plant. Google broke ground on the Widows Creek data center last year and beyond the construction jobs, hopes to employ up to a hundred plus employees long term. I strongly encourage TVA to continue to replicate these economic development successes and hope the Board will commit to finding new economic opportunities for any community that may face job losses as a result of a TVA plant closure.
With regards to Thursday’s vote, I would appreciate it if you would provide me with answers to the following questions, along with related information:
- If the Paradise Fossil Plant and Bull Run Fossil Plant are kept open beyond 2020 and 2023 respectively, would there be an additional cost to TVA ratepayers? If so, are there estimates of those additional costs per household?
- It is my understanding that the recent investments in nuclear power have been able to help cover the power needs of the two coal-fired facilities in question. Is that true? If so, please elaborate.
- Have you or any of your fellow TVA Board Members been approached by anyone that represents Murray Energy to discuss Mr. Murray’s views on this issue or discuss the Murray Energy Plan? If so, please describe the time and who participated in these meetings.
- If TVA is forced to continue to invest the millions of dollars to keep these aging coal plants operationally, could these costs potentially derail or stall investments that would have otherwise gone into small module reactors and other advanced nuclear reactors?
- Are either of these facilities critical to reliability or resiliency of the electric grid, either in the TVA service area or national grid?
- Does TVA have an economic development plan to help ease any economic burden the local communities may experience with these closures? If TVA does not have a plan, as part of your vote on Thursday, would you consider directing staff to develop such a plan?
My hope is that you and your fellow TVA Board Members will continue to keep your commitment to ensure TVA is an industry leader that keeps rates “as low as feasible,” while also improving the valley’s air and water. I thank you in advance for your answers and will be watching Thursday’s vote closely.
With best personal regards, I am,
cc: Bill Johnson, CEO and President
Kenneth Allen, Board Member
A.D. Frazier, Board Member
Virginia Lodge, Board Member
Jeff Smith, Board Member
James Thompson, Board Member
Ronald Walter, Board Member