One of the tallest chimneys in the world was toppled Thursday as part of a 5-year-old effort to remove and clean up what was once the Tennessee Valley Authority's biggest coal power plant in Alabama.
The giant 1,001-foot-high smokestack at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant was destroyed by explosives in just 90 seconds, clearing the biggest remaining landmark at the 8-unit coal-fired plant on the Tennessee River. The demolition came more than five years after TVA shut down the last remaining unit at Widows Creek that ended six decades of coal-fired generation in Jackson County, Alabama.
TVA spokeswoman Malinda Hunter said the blasting subcontractor Dykon worked with demolition and environmental remediation contractor Brandenburg to topple the tower and still reclaim as much as possible of the steel and concrete used in the stack, which was originally built in 1977 to help lift smog emissions out of the local environment. Once processed, the reclaimed concrete from the stack will be used as fill material for the powerhouse basement and for overall site restoration, while the steel will be recycled.
TVA is spending $66 million to clear and return the Widows Creek plant to a brownfield site that can be redeveloped and reused for new development.
Part of the Widows Creek plant is already being used for a $600 million data center Google opened last year on the site. Google has contracted with TVA to get all of its power for the data center from solar generation.
The Widows Creek land reclamation is now about 90% complete and TVA projects the land will be ready for resale in early 2021.
"We are focused on the end result, with safety always in mind," Roger Waldrep, vice president of major projects at TVA, said in a statement Thursday. "Getting this stack down is another milestone in delivering on our goal to restore this site for the area's economic benefit."
In September 2019, TVA demolished two 500-foot stacks at Widows Creek and work crews continue to clear, clean up and monitor the buildings, ash ponds and coal storage sites across the 1,500-acre site at Widows Creek.
TVA says it is recycling all of the metals once used for power production at the plant, with more than 80% going to Valley recyclers. More than 123,000 gross tons of metal have been removed from the site so far, Hunter said.
Widows Creek began generating power in 1952 and, at its peak when all eight units were operating, the facility had 600 full-time employees. Widows Creek was capable of generating 1,800 megawatts of power, or about one and half times as much power as what each reactor generates at TVA's Sequoyah or Watts Bar plants.
"I remember when I was little I'd sit out in the yard and listen to the plant's dinner whistle blow," Robbie Rich, a Stevenson native who worked 17 years at Widows Creek as an instrument mechanic and ultimately as plant manager, told TVA in a facebook post. "I've lived my whole life in the shadow of that stack. It was a great job and I'd still be there if it was still there."
The eight units at Widows Creek were among 159 coal-fired units TVA operated three decades ago to generate more than 60% of TVA's electricity in the late 1980s. But only 25 of those units are still active and in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, TVA got only 13% of its power from coal-fired plants, down from 17% in 2019 and 19% in 2018.
With the closing of the Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky earlier this year and the planned closing of the Bull Run fossil plant in Tennessee by 2023, TVA's reliance on coal is expected to continue to shrink.
But TVA is hoping to use the riverfront site at Widows Creek to lure other businesses to the Valley to offset the loss of the coal jobs.
"For more than 60 years, through the hard work of hundreds of TVA employees, it generated reliable energy," TVA Senior Vice President John Bradley said of Widows Creek. "Now, once the site is restored and available for new development, it will generate economic dividends for the region for years to come."
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340.