Tennessee Valley Authority expects to decide in March that it will spend $2.2 billion to replace its aging 1.5-GW Kingston, Tenn., coal-fired power plant with an equal-sized gas-fired facility it says could burn 5% hydrogen, coupled with a new 122-mile natural gas pipeline and 100 MW of battery storage. 

The details are in a final environmental impact statement the federal power producer released Feb. 16 in which it lists the gas-fired plant as its preferred replacement power option. The 70-year-old, nine-unit Kingston coal plant, which was the world’s largest coal fired plant when it began operating, would be demolished when the new facility opens in late 2027. 

Alternative options TVA considered were construction of multiple solar generation and energy storage units across its territory and continuing to operate the Kingston plant—including repairs, maintenance and upgrades to keep it operating while also continuing to dispose of its coal ash residue. 

The plant gained national attention as the site of a massive coal ash spill in 2008 when several million gallons of ash and debris spilled across 300 acres of northeast Tennessee and into the Emory River. TVA paid $28 million to coal ash victims in 2014, with cleanup costing it an estimated $1 billion. Cleanup was completed in 2015, including new site coal ash storage protections. But litigation involving remediation workers against cleanup contractor Jacobs Engineering lasted until a 2023 confidential settlement. 

The incident also has stiffened regulation of hundreds of coal ash disposal sites across the U.S. One proposal that would apply to inactive surface impoundments—ponds, landfills and other fill sites at coal-fired plants that ceased operation or no longer accepted coal ash waste prior to implementation of a 2015 federal rule—could become final this year.

More TVA Scrutiny?

The proposed combined cycle gas-fired plant would replace capacity lost by closing Kingston and support anticipated power demand growth in the region, says the TVA environmental review. The facility would be able to burn up to 30% hydrogen with modifications once a reliable fuel source was identified, it adds. According to TVA, the gas plant is the lowest cost and most reliable option and could be built the fastest. It also would add flexibility needed to add 10,000 MW of solar power into the TVA system by 2035, which the producer has previously announced.

TVA CEO Jeff Lyash will make the final replacement decision, spokesman Scott Brooks told ENR. 

He approved last year a plan to build a 1.45 GW combined-cycle gas plant to replace one unit of TVA's Cumberland coal fired facility in Stewart County, Tenn, despite concerns voiced about its environmental review. TVA would build the new gas plant to operate by 2026. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission earlier this month approved a natural gas pipeline to support it. TVA would retire the second unit by the end of 2028.

TVA also plans to invest $1.5 billion through 2027 in energy efficiency and demand response programs.

Environmental groups criticized the Kingston gas plant, claiming it would worsen climate change impacts and threaten hundreds of waterways along the feeder pipeline's route. 

“As the largest public utility in the nation, it’s time for TVA to shift their energy generation to clean and safe energy sources,” the Sierra Club said in a statement. 

Tennessee Congressional lawmakers, Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, and Republican Rep. Tim Burchett, introduced a bill March 8 to require more TVA transparency in preparing its integrated resource plan for future power development, with more public scrutiny and outside review similar to regulation by state public service commissions. Burchett acknowledged it has been more open in recent years, but said ratepayers "deserve the chance to gain insight into TVA's decision-making process and the opportunity to offer input."  

TVA said it expects to release the plan this spring, with 10 public meetings set before the agency board adopts it later this year. "Meaningfully involving the public in the planning process ... will vastly improve the quality of the resulting plans," said Brianna Knisely, director of public power campaigns for activist group Appalachian Voices, in a statement.

Fusion Power Prototype Sited

Meanwhile, TVA will host a prototype fusion power plant at a decommissioned coal plant site, project developer Type One Energy Group said Feb. 21. 

Construction could begin in 2025 at the former 865-MW Bull Run coal facility in Tennessee to verify design features of the developer's “stellarator” fusion technology after environmental reviews, permits and operating licenses are completed. 

Type One Energy has said it plans to invest more than $220 million in the region over the next five years.

TVA, the firm and the U.S. Energy Dept Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. have signed an agreement to develop and commercialize fusion energy technologies. “Type One Energy is committed to making commercial fusion a reality over the next decade," it said in a statement. 

Oak Ridge Director Stephen Streiffer said it has been a pioneer in fusion science and technology since the early 1950s and will work with the company on the pilot's engineering. “It’s exciting to see a project in Oak Ridge with such great potential to advance fusion energy,” he said.

The developer's Infinity One prototype fusion reactor is a different design than the tokamak fusion reactor now being tested and developed in Europe.  Type One officials said the Tennessee project will allow its design features to be verified for affordability, reliability, maintenance and operating efficiency.