TVA to shut down Widows Creek coal plant near Stevenson, Ala.

Smoke rises from TVA's Widows Creek plant near Stevenson, Ala., in this file photo.
photo Smoke rises from TVA's Widows Creek plant near Stevenson, Ala., in this file photo.


* Location: On the Tennessee River near Stevenson, Ala. * Staff: At its peak, over 500 employees, but only 90 remain operating Unit 7 today * History: Six identical boiler units were built from 1952 to 1954, and two larger units were added in 1961 and 1965. * Power capacity: 1,600 megawatts from all eight units, or enough power for nearly 1 million homes. Only the 575-megawatt Unit 7 still operates. * Problem: In January 2009, a dam break in a gypsum slurry pond spilled 10,o00 gallons of waste into the creek. The capacity in the ash pond for additional coal wastes will be filled by next spring. * Distinctive feature: The 1,001-foot high chimney built in 1977 to help lift smog emissions out of the local environment is one of the tallest chimneys in the world. * Future: The last operating unit will be shut down by October. TVA will take several years to decommission and clean up the site and then market it for other use. Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

The Tennessee Valley Authority will shut down its Widows Creek coal plant in Alabama this fall, four years earlier than previously planned, to avoid having to comply with stricter coal ash regulations coming this fall.

TVA directors voted Thursday to shutter the last operating boiler at Widows Creek by October when new federal regulations for storing the coal ash waste from operating plants come into effect.

The 63-year-old Widows Creek plant, which once employed more than 500 workers and was one of TVA's biggest power plants, now has only about 90 employees left operating the lone Unit 7 boiler. Those jobs will be phased out as TVA ceases power production and cleans up the riverfront site near Stevenson, Ala.

"It's going to be a huge hit for this entire region," Stevenson Mayor Rickey Steele said after the board action. "It's not just the lost TVA jobs, but all of the business and tax revenue this plant has generated in our area that will also suffer."

TVA Chief Operating Officer Charles "Chip" Pardee said the ash pond at Widows Creek is nearly full and building a new facility to conform with new EPA rules would be too expensive for the lone remaining generator.

"There are compelling reasons to close the plant later this year and begin decommissioning activities at the plant site," Pardee told the TVA board.

TVA had planned to shut down the last unit at Widows Creek in 2019 as part of an overall plan to cut its coal generation by more than a third from its peak level more than a decade ago.

To reduce smog emissions, cut carbon releases and diversify its power generation, TVA is retiring 33 of the 59 coal units it once operated. TVA is replacing such generation with natural gas, nuclear, wind and solar production, and Pardee said he doesn't anticipate any supply problems from the power shift.

"There have been changes in our industry that make this necessary, but these kinds of decisions are always the most difficult to make," said TVA Chairman Joe Ritch, the lone Alabama member of the TVA board of directors. "While it is the right thing to do, it doesn't make it any easier."

By next spring, TVA plans to shut down the last of its coal plants in Alabama when it shutters the only remaining units at its Colbert Fossil Plant near Tuscumbia, Ala.

Because TVA's tax-equivalent payments to local governments are based, in part, on the value of its assets, the shutdown of Widows Creek and Colbert will further cut what has already been a drop in TVA payments to Alabama governments. TVA reduced those payments already from $122.6 million two years ago to $106 million last year.

"I estimate the city of Stevenson will lose another $7,000 a month, and for a small city like us that really hurts," Steele said. "We've already been hurt by TVA's decision not to finish the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, and this just adds to that hurt. TVA's charter says part of their mission is economic development, but we're not seeing it."

Monty Adams, a former Franklin County, Tenn., mayor and manager of the Sherwood Mining Co., which supplies limestone to Widows Creek from its plant in Sherwood, Tenn., said Widows Creek's closing will affect both TVA and suppliers in the region.

"It is not just TVA employees that are at risk," he told the TVA board during a public hearing. "It includes thousands of others -- small businesses and others that are all there to support Widows Creek's mission. I ask that you consider keeping Widows Creek open at least long enough -- at least five years or longer -- to allow our communities and region to adjust."

But environmental groups critical of TVA's coal generation applauded Thursday's decision to expedite the closing of Widows Creek.

"TVA is again showing power producers across the country how to be a good neighbor and a responsible utility," said Jonathan Levenshus, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

Levenshus said 189 coal-fired power plants across the nation have been retired since the Sierra Club launched its drive to shut down all U.S. coal plants.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.