Bull Run Fossil Plant may get mothballed

Claxton’s Bull Run Fossil Plant may be retired, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

TVA has released a report detailing the environmental and financial impact of keeping the plant running versus shutting it down and is asking for public input.

The plant, located just outside of Oak Ridge, was built between 1962 and 1966. Commercial operation began in 1967; at the time it was built, it was the largest in the world in the volume of steam produced, according to the TVA. It created enough energy to meet the needs of 430,000 homes.

TVA is considering retiring the plant for a number of reasons: high projected maintenance costs, costs related to environmental compliance and a high forced outage rate. TVA stated in a report that it is “assessing the continuing cost of operating Bull Run Fossil Plant against the demand projections and TVA’s statutory mission to provide reliable power at the lowest system cost.”

One consequence of shutting down the plant that would affect local folks: fishing at Melton Hill Reservoir. Since the plant would not be discharging its “thermal plume” — a band of warmer water than the natural temperature of the river — during the winter and spring months, fewer anglers may fish during those seasons. Shutting down the plant would have a beneficial impact on the river, but there could be potential for direct discharges of chemicals, hazardous waste and solid waste, according to the TVA.

The plant has made changes over the past 10 years in order to reduce pollutants.

Complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines is one of the biggest costs associated with the future operation of the plant. In 2011, to resolve some legal challenges brought under the Clean Air Act and environmental groups in multiple states, including Tennessee, two settlements required the TVA to retire 18 of its 59 coal-fired units by 2018, according to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

Bull Run was not one of those; but it has its own problems. The air quality around Bull Run has been an issue in the past. In 2006, the county was cited by the US Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards as being in “nonattainment” status, meaning the air quality was poor due to pollutants. In 2015, the area was reevaluated and labeled as “maintenance.” Air quality has continued to improve, according to the TVA, after it made changes to the plant.

The environmental consequences of shutting down Bull Run would “positively affect air quality both locally and regionally by elimination of the emissions from coal-fired electricity generation,” according to the TVA. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would also limit the emissions that contribute to climate change, according to the TVA. The pollutants come from the plant’s boiler stack as well as coal mining, handling and transportation, and ash handling and disposal.

The plant is also deteriorating and in need of upgrades. It’s been forced to shut down many times in order to repair or replace failing equipment. The shutdowns have placed the plant at “the bottom quartile of the U.S. fleet and the worst in the TVA coal fleet for forced outage occurrences,” according to the TVA.

It just doesn’t fit into the TVA’s future needs, which has contracts with alternative energy providers, like wind, solar and hydroelectric.

The retirement would take place in 2023 and affect around 100 jobs. It would also affect the mining operations of the coalmines that support the plant.

If it were shut down, it would be deconstructed. That is much easier said than done — decommissioning, deactivating and decontaminating the plant would include removing all the equipment, drain all the oil and fluids from the equipment, remove all the coal and all the ash, all the hazardous materials and potential waste, and shutting down all power and water supplies. As a whole, though, the plant would remain in place, minus the steam plume.

The full report is available at tva.com/nepa through Dec. 19. Comments can be submitted there as well, or emailed to aapilakowski@tva.gov or in writing to Ashley Pilakowski, NEPA Compliance, Tennessee Valley Authority, 400 West Summit Hill Drive, WT 11B, Knoxville, TN 37902.