Despite cost overruns and delays in its nuclear power program, TVA finished a natural gas power plant this week a month ahead of schedule and $30 million under budget.
The $790 million John Sevier Combined Cycle Gas Plant, which began generating commercial power Monday, will replace part of TVA's nearby coal plant near Rogersville, Tenn. The 880-megawatt plant is the fifth combined cycle gas plant TVA has bought or built in the past five years and will produce enough power for about 500,000 homes.
The gas-fired plant will replace two of the four units at the nearby John Sevier Fossil Plant, which are being shut down at the end of the year to help TVA meet federal pollution controls.
"The John Sevier Combined Cycle Plant is a testament to TVA's commitment to provide cleaner, lower-cost generation," Bob Deacy, senior vice president of TVA's generation construction, said in a statement Tuesday.
Environmental activists wary about TVA's coal and nuclear plants praised the switch to natural gas.
"We don't think natural gas is perfect or the answer to all problems," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in Knoxville. "But as the John Sevier plant experience shows, gas plants can be built much cheaper and quicker and are cleaner and more versatile than building expensive new nuclear plants."
With natural gas prices falling last month to a 10-year low, natural gas is proving to be a more cost-effective source of power than some of TVA's least efficient coal or oil-fired generators, and the gas plants are being built at a fraction of the expense of new nuclear plants.
TVA directors agreed last month to continue work on a second reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant even though it is projected to cost up to $4.5 billion to complete, or nearly twice the initial $2.5 billion estimate. Watts Bar also will take an extra three years to complete.
The new John Sevier gas plant, which was built in less than three years, uses three combustion turbines similar to jet engines to produce electricity in its first cycle. The heat from the exhaust of the turbines then is captured in a secondary system to produce steam that is sent to a steam turbine to generate additional electricity.
"During start-up and testing the plant proved consistent and reliable in its electricity production, meaning it is going to be a dependable addition to our generating fleet," said Bob Dalrymple, vice president of TVA's gas generation fleet.
The plant will be managed by a TVA staff of about 30 employees.
TVA, which got only a fraction of its its own generation from natural gas before five years ago, has built or purchased combined cycle gas-fired plants at Caledonia, Magnolia and Southaven in Mississippi, and at Lagoon Creek near Brownsville, Tenn.