Last load of coal delivered at TVA's Widows Creek plant

Last load of coal delivered at TVA's Widows Creek plant

September 19th, 2015 by Tim Omarzu in Business Around the Region

Marsha Humphres, coal yard supervisor at Widows Creek Fossil Plant, stands near the final two coal cars to deliver fuel to the plant, which closes later this month.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

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* 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.

* Coal usage: Widows Creek could burn 4,000 tons of coal per day, almost half of the 10,000 tons of coal carried on a 90-car coal train. Coal costs about $50 a ton, so burning 4,000 tons of coal would cost about $20,000 per day.

* Problem: In January 2009, a dam break in a gypsum slurry pond spilled 10,000 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.

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority


STEVENSON, Ala. — History was made Friday morning when the final delivery of coal was fed into the Tennessee Valley Authority's Widows Creek Fossil Plant.

Only two reporters came to watch — in contrast to June when hundreds of people gathered to hear the announcement that Google would build a new $600 million data processing center near the 63-year-old coal-fueled power plant, which is due to stop generating electricity by the end of the month.

In June, the symbolism of a clean, green Silicon Valley high-tech company succeeding a coal plant got played up.

But on Friday, some awe-inspiring, old technology was on display.

A device called a coal dumper flipped the final, 140-ton coal car upside down and emptied its contents into a hopper as effortlessly as if it were a shaker of table salt.

"Decades-old technology right here, and it still works, and it's impressive to watch," Widows Creek Operations Manager Matt Smith said.

The final load of coal was bound for an ever-shrinking coal pile at the plant, which only has one of its eight generation units working. The coal pile should be all used up by Wednesday, said Kenny Mullinax, TVA's vice president of western transitional coal and hydro generation.

After the plant stops producing electricity, TVA will tear it down.

"That's our plan, to take the plant back to a brownfield," Mullinax said.

TVA hasn't yet figured out how much the demolition will cost, TVA spokeswoman Kristine Shattuck-Cooper said.

And TVA is still figuring out how to go about demolishing the plant, including the 1,001-foot-tall reinforced concrete chimney stack that released steam and smoke from six generating units that have been offline for years.

"There has been talk about bringing in a grinder, putting it on the top and letting the stack fall in on itself and taking [rubble] out the bottom," Smith said.

Or TVA may bring in experts who'll topple the stack.

Plans call for salvaging as much of the old plant as possible, Shattuck-Cooper said.

"They're looking at everything and how it can be reused, repurposed and where else it can go," she said.

Only about 90 people TVA employees still work at the plant, down from about 430 employees about 16 years ago, when Smith started working there.

Widow Creek's employees will be kept on for a while to help with the plant's demolition.

They have the opportunity to transfer to other TVA jobs, TVA officials said.

"They're making great efforts to find everybody positions," said Smith, who's going to work at TVA's Bull Run Fossil Plant on Bull Run Creek near Oak Ridge, Tenn.

TVA directors voted in May to shutter Widows Creek, which began generating power in 1952.

TVA had planned to wait until 2019, but new coal ash rules made it too expensive to keep operating the unit 7 generator, the last one running, because the existing ash pond at Widows Creek is reaching capacity.

Widows Creek is among the coal-powered units TVA pledged to cut back to meet clean air standards. The plan to shutter Widows Creek followed earlier decisions by TVA to shut down its coal units at its John Sevier, Allen, Paradise, Colbert and Johnsonville fossil plants.

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.

Widows Creek employees are sad to see it go, TVA officials said Friday.

"Let's just say it's an emotional experience for our people," Mullinax said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or or 423-757-6651.

Gallery: Last load of coal delivered at TVA's Widows Creek plant

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