While TVA's half-century-old Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis continued consuming piles of coal to make electricity, agency officials gathered on the other end of the state last week to dedicate a sleek, $775 million facility that represents a quantum shift in how the Mid-South gets its power.
With the new John Sevier Combined Cycle plant near Rogersville, Tenn. – and several other recently added facilities burning natural gas – the Tennessee Valley Authority now is producing only one-third of its power with coal-fired generating units. That's a sharp decline from fiscal 2011, when coal-fired boilers produced 52 percent of TVA's power, and it's the first time in decades that coal hasn't fueled the majority of the electricity generated by the agency.
The agency's shift away from coal has been part of a national trend driven largely by the abundance of cheap natural gas extracted from shale through the process of hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking." Utilities also have been turning to cleaner-burning gas amid increasingly stringent air-pollution standards targeting emissions from coal units.
During the just-completed 2012 fiscal year, TVA's consumption of gas shot up 70 percent, while its use of coal dropped 30 percent. Gas accounted for about one-fifth of TVA's power, up from less than 1 percent in 2007, agency officials said. Nuclear plants generated one-third of the agency's electricity, with the remainder coming from hydroelectric dams and renewable sources.
Read the expanded version of this report at the Memphis Commercial Appeal Web site.