While recent decisions made at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland haven’t had a chance to have a ripple effect in Tennessee, decisions made in years past have.
In fact, they contributed to the possible retirement of Bull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton. According to the Clean Air Task Force, Bull Run releases 360 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, 897 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions and 2,052,657 tons of CO2 emissions each year. These emissions have been linked to a number of serious health effects, according to the CATF, like asthma, chronic bronchitis and premature mortality.
But it used to be a lot worse, here and at every other coal-fired plant. The 2015 Paris Agreement, which the U.S. signed, was an agreement between all countries represented in the UN to stabilize greenhouse gases in an effort to slow climate change.
This conference has been an annual event 1992; but, because the United Nations has no authority to enforce decisions made during the conference, the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015.
The U.S. has said it will withdraw from it, but the earliest it can do that is November 2020.
Meanwhile, President Trump held a side conference in Poland promoting the use of coal.
The White House announced earlier this month that it would ease restrictions on CO2 emissions for coal plants — allowing up to 1,900 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity instead of the 1,400 allowed under the Obama era regulations.
But, despite the White House’s pro-coal message and planned deregulations, nearly 40-percent of the coal plants in the U.S. have already been retired, including, potentially, Bull Run Fossil Plant.
The costs to implement the changes to reduce emissions have been high. TVA invested $1.5 billion for five scrubbers — a system that “scrubs” sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants — at four coal plants around a decade ago, including at Bull Run. The Claxton plant is in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
Those changes came after an already high expenditure in 2011. According to the EPA, part of a 2011 settlement for Clean Air Act violations required that the TVA “invest a TVA-estimated $3 to $5 billion on new and upgraded state-of-the-art pollution controls that will prevent approximately 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks and 21,000 cases of asthma attacks each year, resulting in up to $27 billion in annual health benefits. TVA will also invest $350 million on clean energy projects that will reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health and the environment.”
That settlement covered 11 units, including Bull Run. It’s not just about reducing CO2 emissions because of the potential impact on the climate — it’s about the health impact on people.
The energy industry as a whole has been turning to alternative energy sources for years. Switching to natural gas, solar, wind and hydroelectric energy is already part of the TVA’s goals. According to its website, “in keeping with out commitment to generate safer, cleaner energy, we’re beginning to retire older, less efficient coal-fired plants and replacing them with low- or zero- emission electricity sources.”