The Tennessee Valley Authority has withdrawn permit applications to store coal ash at the Bull Run power plant in Anderson County while it re-evaluates its options for disposing of tons of the residuals from the 53-year-old plant.
TVA recently informed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation about the decision to withdraw its permit, which had drawn criticism from some local residents concerned about lingering effects of the potentially toxic material being stored near the Bull Run Creek.
TVA purchased 200 acres of property next to the coal-fired power plant and first began the permit application process in 2013 when the utility still expected to continue to operate Bull Run for many years. But faced with a stagnant or even declining power demand, the TVA board voted last year to close the Bull Run plant in 2023 after shutting down the last of its Paradise coal plant in Kentucky earlier this year.
"We are thoroughly studying the environment at Bull Run, and we haven't made any decisions about the future of coal ash stored there," said Scott Turnbow, TVA's vice president for civil projects. "We aren't certain if a new landfill will be necessary, so it makes sense to withdraw our applications until we determine the need."
The proposed landfill site being considered would have held around 8-9 million cubic yards of ash and would force a stream to be rerouted.
"We may pursue a new landfill if the need for that landfill can be determined with certainty," Turnbow said. "We will engage with TDEC and other regulators as necessary for any permits or permit modifications once those decisions about coal ash storage are made."
TVA officials said they will study options for storing the coal ash and gypsum either on site or building another landfill.
Coal once supplied nearly two thirds of TVA's electricity, but he utility is still grappling with the residuals left from the 59 coal-fired units TVA once operated across the Tennessee Valley. Last year, TVA President Jeff Lyash estimated that cleaning up coal ash at all of those facilities may end up costing TVA another $3 billion to $5 billion.
"The important thing here is to do what the best science informs and directs us to do, which means we need to take the time to do the geological, the hydrology and the environmental studies for each of these sites to determine what the best course of action is for closure and for ground water mitigation," Lyash said last year. "We've had 60 years of benefit from the coal plants at TVA and now we have a deferred cost to pay for it,"
TVA is doing more to ensure dikes and earthen dams are safe so the utility doesn't have another accident like the Kingston coal ash spill in 2008. More than 1.1 billion gallons of coal sludge spilled into the Emory River and nearby properties when a wall in the coal ash pond near the plant collapsed in the worst such spill in American history.
TVA has spent $1.2 billion cleaning up and compensating injured property owners from that disaster and TVA is spending at least that much again on converting other coal ash ponds to dry ash storage to avoid any other such spills.
TVA leaders announced a two-year study last June to determine the future of the Bull Run plant after its 2023 closure.
Bull Run Fossil Plant is located on Bull Run Creek near Oak Ridge and is the only single-generator coal-fired power plant in the TVA system. When the generator went into operation in 1967, it was the largest in the world in the volume of steam produced.
The plant has a summer net capability of 865 megawatts and generates approximately 6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to supply 400,000 homes.