ROGERSVILLE — U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said natural gas-fueled power plants like the one he helped dedicate Thursday in Rogersville are a threat to coal jobs and the coal industry in general. Roe acknowledged, however, that “cheap energy” is a key to revitalizing the manufacturing industry in the United States and rebuilding the middle class.
Roe was among several dignitaries to attend a dedication ceremony Thursday morning for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s new 880 megawatt John Sevier Combined Cycle Plant in Rogersville.
Following the ceremony, Roe told the Times-News he believes natural gas power plants will cost jobs in the coalfields of Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He added, however, that regulations set out by the Environmental Protection Agency make it impossible for TVA to build new coal-powered plants.
“They just took off a coal-fired power plant here,” Roe told the Times-News. “Alpha Natural Resources just laid off 1,200 people in three states, and that’s 1,200 families that don’t have a job now. That’s serious. But remember, when you take a (coal-fired) plant off-line, these rail cars that were bringing coal in here won’t be doing that now that this plant is operational.”
Roe added that when Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign brings him to Abingdon today (Friday) he expects Romney’s pro-coal proposals to be very popular with Southwest Virginia voters.
“We obviously have an abundance of natural gas that’s unbelievable, and it’s very inexpensive, but coal still has a great place (in the future),” Roe said. “Technology is ahead in natural gas from where it is in coal, and we can’t ignore that resource. We have a 400-year supply (of coal) at current usage, and we need to look and expand our technology in coal. We can carbon capture, carbon sequester, and it’s still a big part of the equation.”
The new Rogersville plant runs on natural gas and generates enough electricity to supply about 500,000 Tennessee Valley homes.
The plant produces fewer emissions than a comparable coal-fired power plant and is designed to start quickly to meet peak and intermediate electricity needs.
The addition of the John Sevier Combined Cycle Gas Plant supports TVA’s vision to be a national leader in cleaner, low-cost energy by 2020.
Typically, combined cycle gas plants produce 40 percent fewer emissions than a traditional coal plant, including half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxide, and only 1 percent of the sulfur dioxide.
TVA’s energy plan for the future — the “Integrated Resource Plan” — forecasts a need for up to an additional 9,300 megawatts of natural gas-fired generation in the 2012-2029 time frame to meet the TVA’s power supply requirements from growth in demand and retirement of older coal-fired plants.
Gas is supplied to the site through an 8.5-mile, 24-inch-diameter pipeline built by Spectra Energy and operated by East Tennessee Natural Gas.
If all three of the plant’s combustion turbines are operating at full load, they consume more than 150 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.
The Rogersville plant is the TVA’s fifth combined cycle natural gas-fired plant added to the grid since 2007, and the second of TVA’s combined cycle plants in Tennessee. The first is Lagoon Creek near Brownsville.
Tim Hope, TVA vice president of new unit services, said during Thursday’s dedication ceremony that the new Rogersville plant not only beat its June completion deadline by a month, but also came in $45 million under budget. The project was budgeted for $820 million but ended up costing $775 million.
“The John Sevier project is 870 megawatts of clean-burning gas power for the customers of the Tennessee Valley,” Hope added. “It’s a continued investment in TVA in Northeast Tennessee, and it’s another showcase facility in TVA’s gas fleet.”
Roe said during the ceremony he has great respect for the workers who completed the Rogersville plant ahead of schedule and under budget.
“I think it’s rather amazing that you can come here in less than two years with a flat piece of ground and now produce 870, 880 megawatts of electric power to keep power rates low,” he said.