TVA to close Bull Run

Bill Johnson
“It’s not about coal,” said TVA president Bill Johnson during an Oak Ridge city council meeting last week.

He was discussing the possibility of shutting down Bull Run Fossil Plant. Last Thursday, TVA voted to do just that.

“This decision is about economics,” he continued. “It is about adhering to the legal requirements under the TVA Act. It’s about keeping rates as low as feasible. And it’s about the fit of these plants in TVA’s portfolio to the load.

“Continued operation of these units well into the future would impose significant costs on our customers that could be entirely avoided with no impact to reliability, no impact to resilience and no need to replace these plants.”

You can’t just turn it off and on again

Bull Run was built around 50 years ago, and it was designed to run about 80-percent of the time, according to Johnson; however, it’s only running about 10-percent of the time.

Compared to natural gas and nuclear plants, it isn’t efficient to run.

“[Paradise and Bull Run] just cannot do what they were designed to do,” Johnson said. “As I said earlier, in terms of theoretical economics, Paradise 3 and Bull Run are economically viable between nine and 13 percent of the time.”

Bull Run can’t just be turned off and then turned back on when needed. If you want to run it on Thursday, according to Johnson, you have to turn it on on Tuesday.

Basically, they’re obsolete.

“They are relatively old. They have both outlived their design life by at least a decade,” he said.

The plants can be retired without any impact on reliability.

“We have one of the most — if not the most — resilient system in the country and this will have no impact on it,” he said. “And we will not have to replace them with any new assets. We can avoid over $1 billion of lifetime cost on these units.”

This cuts coal use by about one-percent.

What about the coal ash?

District 1 Commissioner Tracy Wandell, whose district includes Claxton, issued a public statement about the plant closure before the final decision was made. He expressed concerns about the coal ash storage.

“The issue to me is that Bull Run would possibly shut down leaving our community and future generations with now three large mountains of ash storage and no operating plant, loss of jobs and tax revenue,” he said.

The commission passed a resolution around two years ago in support of TVA building a natural gas plant at the Bull Run site to keep some jobs there and keep power there, according to Wandell. It would also eliminate the production of coal ash.

“TVA has retrofitted other coal-fired plants and I believe they could do the same thing at BRF if the TVA board would consider and approve,” he said.

Wandell would like to see TVA remediate the entire footprint of the plant, and remove the coal ash off site to another location.

Johnson dealt with that subject as well.

“We’re ... developing an idea to use the site as a test bed for the development of commercialization of advanced uses of coal and coal ash,” he said. “There are a lot of things you can do with coal and coal ash. We are thinking about how we could set up a consortium to do this that would require the cooperation of the federal government, DOE, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the academia and it’s an early conceptual thought, but we are thinking about it and trying to make it work.”

He also said that, although the plants have lost their value with TVA, they could be valuable for other companies, as Wandell said. TVA would consider offers to buy the plant.

Plan in place for employees

When it comes to its employees, TVA doesn’t plan on leaving them high and dry. About 25 of the 100 employees at Bull Run are from Anderson County.

“About 40 percent of the workforce at these plants is retirement eligible,” said Johnson. “For those who desire to continue with TVA we will work to move them to positions that might be available elsewhere with TVA and help minimize impacts as much as possible.

“We’ve done a good job of mitigating the impacts on affected employees who have closed other facilities in recent years and will do the same here.”

Dismantling the plant and remediating the land alone will provide a need for employees at that location for years to come, according to Johnson.

During the board meeting when the vote was held, board member Virginia Lodge said that “I don’t want anybody to think we have not heard and understood the heartfelt pleas from these communities. If we could make our decisions based on our sympathetic feeling it would be easy. Unfortunately we’ve all taken an oath to do what we think is best for the entire Valley. That being said I would like to express our appreciation to the employees for their dedication to the continued safe operation of these units.”

She asked Johnson what measures he would take to minimize the impact on the employees.

He said that, in the past, TVA has re-employed those who wished to continue working.

“The first and immediate impact is to encourage them to keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is working safely and reliably and all of those things you need to do every day,” Johnson said. “We are talking about a 2-5 year period. We’ve also have a number of people who are retirement eligible that would get a severance payment and take their retirement, so there are a lot of things we will do that will be mitigation for the employees.”

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank also showed concern for the employees when she found out the plant is scheduled to close.

“I am concerned for the people who depend on these jobs to care for themselves and their families,” she said. “...I will make every effort I can to make sure Anderson County is at the table with TVA to advocate for a successful and environmentally responsible decommissioning and repurposing of the facility.

“I have personally toured Bull Run in the past, and when I learned of the TVA assessment, I strongly feared the age of our facility and also the other generation units that had come online throughout the TVA system would lead to a closure. As they announced the initial stages of an assessment, I had already reached out to TVA to set up on-site visits to other TVA sites that have been closed and repurposed for the benefit to the community. I hope that Anderson County can work with TVA to repurpose the Bull Run site to an economically vibrant asset that the Claxton community as well as our county and region can be proud of.”