Tennessee: More scrubbers ordered for Widows Creek plant

Tennessee: More scrubbers ordered for Widows Creek plant

January 15th, 2009 in Local Regional News

The Tennessee Valley Authority must install scrubbers on boilers at its second-oldest coal-fired power plant, a federal court ordered this week.

The air pollution equipment on the six oldest units at Widows Creek Steam Plant near Stevenson, Ala., should help limit ozone pollution in Chattanooga and North Carolina, according to experts who testified in a North Carolina lawsuit against TVA. But the scrubbers will cost TVA at least another $158 million on top of more than $3 billion of pollution controls already planned by the federal utility.

In a 51-page order this week, U.S. District Court Judge Lacy H. Thornburg sided with North Carolina's attorney general, who said TVA's air pollution was a public nuisance for residents downwind of its plants.

TVA COAL CLEANUP

* At Bull Run Steam Plant near Oak Ridge, new scrubbers were installed last year.

* At Kingston Steam Plant in Tennessee, one scrubber will be installed in late 2009 and a second one will be in place by spring 2010 at a cost of $359.3 million.

* At John Sevier Steam Plant near Rogersville, Tenn., a $175.3 million scrubber and $132.8 million of other air pollution reduction devices will be installed by 2012, although a court order wants upgrades done by 2011.

* At Widows Creek Steam Plant near Stevenson, Ala., the court has ordered scrubbers for the six oldest boilers at an estimated cost of $158 million.

Source: U.S. District Court Judge Lacy Thornburg order

"Based on the totality of the evidence, the court finds that, at a minimum, there is an increased risk of incidences of premature mortality in the general public (from the emissions at TVA coal plants in East Tennessee and Northeast Alabama)," Judge Thornburg said.

TVA spokesman John Moulton said the utility meets all federal and state air pollution rules in the seven states where it operates.

"We're continuing to analyze the court's decision," he said. "But in the meantime, TVA is committed to continuing to improve the region's air quality."

The biggest impact from the court order is a requirement to install scrubbers on the six boilers at Widows Creek, which TVA now operates only sporadically using low-sulfur coal. The plant has eight total units, and the two newest ones already have scrubbers.

But North Carolina has adopted stricter requirements than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards, and that requires additional measures, Judge Thornburg said.

TVA already plans to implement most of what the court ordered. Since the lawsuit was filed in January 2006, TVA installed scrubbers at its Bull Run Steam Plant last year and will complete the addition of two scrubbers at the Kingston Steam Plant by the spring of 2010, officials said.

TVA had planned to install scrubbers at the John Sevier Steam Plant near Rogersville by 2012, but Judge Thornburg wants the scrubbers in place by 2011.

Since 1977, TVA has spent $4.8 billion on air pollution controls at coal plants and plans to invest more than $3 billion on additional control equipment within the next three years, Mr. Moulton said.

More pollution controls at Widows Creek should help the air quality in Chattanooga, said Bob Colby, director of Chattanooga/Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau.

"Any additional air pollution control devices installed within our (area) is going to be beneficial," he said. "The less pollution that is put in the air in our region, the cleaner the air is going to be in Chattanooga."

Mr. Colby said the fourth-highest reading last summer for particulate matter in Chattanooga's air was measured at 79 parts per billion, or 4 parts per billion higher than EPA's new standards for clean air attainment.

During a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday on incoming EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., urged the EPA to back measures to limit ozone and mercury emissions.

In order for cities such as Chattanooga to attract plants such as the new VW auto assembly factory, "it's important ... that we have strong national standards to reduce sulfur and mercury," Sen. Alexander said.