Following a multi-year transparent process – including substantial public input and participation -- the Tennessee Valley Authority made the decision on January 10 to approve the retirement of the Cumberland Fossil Plant and replacement generation for one unit with a natural gas plant.
“TVA is building the energy system of the future to ensure low rates, high reliability, and increasingly cleaner generation. The decision to retire Cumberland with plans to retire the entire coal fleet by the mid-2030s is aligned with TVA’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions,” said TVA CEO Jeff Lyash.
The two-unit Cumberland Fossil Plant will retire in two stages – with one unit slated to retire by the end of 2026 and the second unit by the end of 2028. Before the first unit retires, TVA will build a 1,450-megawatt combined cycle plant on the Cumberland reservation to be in operation by 2026 to maintain reliable, uninterrupted power to TVA customers. Replacement generation for the second unit has been deferred to allow consideration for a broader range of replacement options.
“Replacing retired generation with a natural gas plant is the best overall solution because it’s the only mature technology available today that can be in operation by 2026 when the first Cumberland unit retires,” Lyash said. “In addition, natural gas produces less than half the carbon emissions as the retiring coal unit and enables the integration of renewables, such as solar and battery storage, all while maintaining system reliability.”
Energy security begins with diverse energy sources – nuclear, hydro, gas, solar, wind, and innovative technologies. Keeping natural gas in TVA’s portfolio protects the ability to provide the high reliability we offer the 10 million customers in the Tennessee Valley. Gas generation can be quickly brought online to meet peak demands in the winter and summer, and when it’s not needed, it can remain offline, further reducing carbon emissions.
Renewable energy sources are a prevalent part of TVA’s future generation portfolio. We plan to bring online 10,000 MW of solar by 2035. In this case, the solar and battery storage option was not selected for replacement generation for the first unit because, among other things, it’s too expensive ($1.8B more expensive) and will take too long (more than a decade).
“We must balance affordability, reliability, resiliency, and sustainability in every decision we make and actions we take now to keep energy costs stable and low and the lights on as we make this generational transition,” he said.
Built between 1968 and 1973, Cumberland Fossil Plant is the largest generating asset in the TVA coal fleet located in Cumberland City, Tenn., powering approximately 1.1 million homes.
“Cumberland has and continues to play a key role in our mission of service,” said Kris Edmondson, TVA Vice President of Coal Operations. “Both Cumberland units are equipped with technology to remove more than 95 percent of plant emissions. As environmental requirements are becoming more stringent and with load and profiles fluctuating, operating Cumberland is more and more challenging. The employees at Cumberland continue to do an excellent job meeting those challenges.
“I’m proud of the Cumberland team,” said Travis Patterson, Cumberland Plant Manager. “We’ve done a tremendous job facing the challenges of increased environmental regulations and the demand for more flexible operation. We’ll continue to do great work, and Cumberland will remain an important part of the fleet until its slated retirement.”
As TVA’s generation mix evolves, TVA is committed to supporting employees in the next step in their careers.
“We have a detailed workforce plan in place to maintain coal plant expertise and provide opportunities for employees to evaluate options and prepare for next career steps,” said Jacinda Woodward, Senior Vice President, Power Operations. “The plan includes opportunities to transfer to other TVA locations where employee skillsets are needed, to gain skillsets for transitioning to a new job in TVA, or to identify external opportunities if that best meets employee needs.”
In addition, TVA is working with the local community to reduce impacts and evaluate opportunities for economic development or redevelopment of the future retired site.
“My team and I will continue to work with impacted stakeholders and communities as this transition occurs,” said Justin Maierhofer, North Region Vice President. “The benefit of our regional model is we live in these communities and can hear firsthand the challenges and work together to propose solutions that make life better for everyone.”
TVA will continue to evaluate the coal fleet for retirement and replacement generation. The evaluation of replacement generation options for the second retired Cumberland unit has been deferred to allow consideration of a broader range of replacement generation alternatives depending on system needs and the future state of technology.
In addition, Kingston Fossil Plant is currently undergoing an environmental review to determine the potential impacts of retirement and replacement. Plans to have a draft Environmental Impact Statement for Kingston is projected in Spring/Summer 2023.