Groups Demand Closer Scrutiny of Proposed $1 Billion Upgrades to Gallatin Coal Plant
In response to costly planned upgrades that would allow the aging Gallatin Coal Plant to keep operating, environmental groups are calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to consider less expensive, cleaner, and more efficient options for the region.
Rather than retire and replace the 53-year-old Gallatin plant, a significant source of air and water pollution, TVA is planning to spend $1.2 billion on pollution controls in order to continue operating it. In comments filed on Friday in response to a Draft Environmental Assessment for the project, five groups say TVA has failed to appropriately consider other options and to disclose information about the proposed upgrades to the public.
“As a federal agency, TVA is legally required to analyze the environmental consequences of its proposed actions and consider reasonable alternatives,” said Nathan Moore, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “In this case, it’s clear that retiring Gallatin would be a more cost effective alternative and it would be better for the environment.”
Energy efficiency and renewable options, as well as natural gas generation, could more than offset the electricity provided by Gallatin, at a lower price than the proposed retrofit project. These alternatives would also produce far less environmental and health impacts than continuing to operate the coal plant. Even with the proposed upgrades, Gallatin would continue to emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury.
“If TVA has its way, ratepayers will foot the bill for an outrageously expensive plan that locks Tennessee into an outdated and destructive energy system for decades to come,” said Louise Gorenflo, lead volunteer with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Tennessee. “At a time when other major electricity providers are moving into the future with cleaner, more efficient options, TVA is taking a major step backwards by doubling down on a plant over 50 years old.”
While the upgrades would reduce Gallatin’s air pollution enough to meet federal requirements, it would do so by producing new and larger coal combustion waste streams. New landfills spanning 90 acres would be built to contain up to 6 million cubic tons of coal ash waste.
“The proposal on the table essentially substitutes a significant air pollution problem with a serious waste pollution problem,” noted Bridget Lee, attorney with Earthjustice. “Given that we’re approaching the four-year anniversary of the Kingston coal ash spill, we’re concerned about TVA’s plans to significantly increase coal ash storage at the plant when safer options are available.”
The five groups—Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Southern Environmental Law Center— detail numerous concerns about the project in their comments:
- Continued operation of Gallatin would produce millions of tons of air pollutants and water pollutants that flow into the Cumberland River, as well as two to four times more coal combustion waste than it currently produces.
- In order to satisfy legal requirements under the National Environmental Protection Act, TVA must consider alternative approaches including retiring the Gallatin plant—or a subset of its four coal units—and replacing it with energy efficiency resources, power from renewable energy sources, or natural gas generation.
- Given the controversial nature of the proposal and its significant impacts, TVA is legally required to follow a public process that discloses relevant information to the public. Yet TVA has failed to provide its evaluation of an energy efficiency study it commissioned, comparisons of the cost of this proposal with other options, and projections of impacts to ratepayers’ bills.
“Continued operation of the Gallatin plant would exert an enormous toll on human health and the environment for years to come,” said Abel Russ, attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “Given the implications of this decision, the public deserves full transparency and an open, inclusive process.”
“We’re at a crossroads for our energy future and TVA faces a stark decision,” said Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “One option is pouring money into an outdated energy model that has proved costly in many ways; the other option is to look at alternatives that are better for our health, our pocketbooks, and Tennessee’s beautiful natural settings.”