With a boom and a cloud of dust, demolition contractors Saturday imploded the 600-foot smokestack of the Tennessee Valley Authority's oldest coal-fired power plant, located in New Johnsonville, Tennessee.

The implosion at the former Johnsonville Fossil Plant clears the 720-acre site for future development and a possible generation project that could advance TVA's clean-energy technologies.

"I'm sad to see it go," said Bob Joiner, a TVA retiree who worked at the plant for more than three decades and watched the implosion early Saturday. "That plant was built in the '40s by the greatest generation. They put all that together with nothing but pencils, paper and slide rules, and it was built to last."

Construction began on the Johnsonville plant in May 1949 with the first of the plant's 10 operating units going into service in October 1951. Units 1 through 4 ceased generation as part of a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The last unit ended power production on New Year's Eve 2017.

"The team set out to honor the Johnsonville legacy by applying the same pride and integrity in the dismantling of the facility that was exemplified in the building, maintaining, and operation of it for almost 70 years," said Roger Waldrep, TVA vice president of major projects. "Safety is our primary mission, and I'd like to thank the team who were able to complete this portion of the project without any issues."

The New Johnsonville

The town of Johnsonville where TVA built its first coal plant was flooded in the 1940s when TVA constructed the Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River. Many local residents moved to the current site of New Johnsonville, which was incorporated in 1949.

Like the town of New Johnsonville, the Johnsonville Fossil Plant is also looking for a new future.

Although TVA shut down coal generation here at the end of 2017, TVA's Johnsonville site currently has 20 combustion turbines and TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said a number of those also will be retired as new, more efficient natural gas generation is added to the TVA system. The utility conditionally approved placing advanced light-weight combustion turbines—known as aeroderivatives—at the Johnsonville site, pending environmental reviews that will start next year.

TVA is also considering Johnsonville's combustion turbines for a possible carbon-capture demonstration. Fiedler said the project could identify ways to lower the cost of carbon utilization technologies, and potentially help advance future hydrogen generation technologies.

"It's an exciting time to be in the utility industry, and technology is rapidly changing," said Jeff Lyash, TVA president and CEO. "TVA is a technology leader, and our coal sites can serve as a testbed as we build cleaner energy systems that drive jobs and investment into our communities."

As TVA shifts away from coal to limit air pollution and carbon emissions, the federal utility has shut down most of the 59 coal-fired units it once operated, including the closing of the Widows Creek, Colbert, Allen, Shawnee, John Sevier and Paradise plants in the past nine years. TVA plans to shut down the Bull Run Fossil Plant in Oak Ridge by 2023 and phase out all of its coal-fired generation by 2035.

In 2005, TVA generated 57% of its electricity from coal. The share of TVA's power generated by burning coal dropped to only 14% last year.

This month, TVA announced it is investing $1 billion to build new lower-emission, natural gas-fueled combustion turbines at shuttered coal plants in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and Paradise, Kentucky.

Lyash said TVA is reducing carbon emissions because it plays a significant role in the region's economic development as more job creators, manufacturers and local-power companies are demanding cleaner energy.

In the first six months of fiscal year 2021, TVA helped attract or retain more than 45,200 jobs and $3.9 billion in investment to the region, not including recent significant news from LG, Milwaukee Tools and Oracle.

Since 2005, TVA has reduced carbon emissions by more than 60% compared to 2005 levels. The utility plans to reduce that number to 70% by 2030, 80% by 2035 and achieve net-zero emission generation by 2050.

By 2035, TVA plans to add about 10,000 megawatts of solar power.

"TVA never stands still," Lyash said. "Building a clean, low-cost energy future is an essential path for our region to compete for jobs in the new clean economy."

-- Compiled by Dave Flessner