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TVA to begin projects to reduce emissions at Gallatin coal plant

TVA plan to lower pollution moves forward; Gallatin ready to welcome workers

Sep. 23, 2013   |  
TVA plans pollution controls at Gallatin plant
TVA plans pollution controls at Gallatin plant: The Tennessee Valley Authority plans $1 billion worth of upgrades to the Gallatin Fossil Plant to help curb harmful emissions from the coal-fired power plant. TVA's Larry Nathan discusses the pollution controls.
TVA's Thomas Cheney, left, and Larry Nathan stand on the roof of the TVA's Gallatin Fossil Plant during a tour. / Shelley Mays / The Tennessean

Gallatin meeting

What: Business outreach meeting with city and TVA officials on new fossil plant project
Where: Gallatin City Hall dining room, 132 W. Main St., Gallatin
When: 8 a.m. today
For more information, call city hall at 615-451-5961.


At 370 feet tall, the new chimney set to rise in the coming weeks over the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal-burning power plant near Gallatin will be visible for miles around.

Rather than serving as a reminder of the pollution expelled daily from the plant, this towering stack will serve a different purpose: a symbol of potentially cleaner skies.

Workers are set to start pouring concrete this week for the chimney that’s part of a $1.1 billion project to cut certain emissions at TVA’s Gallatin Fossil Plant by as much as 96 percent.

The federal agency embarked this year on a nearly five-year effort to construct machines at the plant that would cut mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions — pollutants that can cause respiratory and other health problems.

The project comes after the federal agency agreed to resolve longstanding disputes over the pollution emitted by its plants. TVA entered into an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, four states and three environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, to lower its emissions to meet new requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.

The agreement forced the federal agency to weigh whether it made more financial sense to invest money in reducing emissions or shut down the plant, as it opted to do at other sites.

“I think it is a close question whether to proceed with the projects,” TVA president and CEO Bill Johnson wrote in a letter this year. “The Gallatin units are performing very well, and there are better candidates for retirement on the TVA system.”

The Gallatin plant burns 13,000 tons of coal a day and produces enough electricity to power the equivalent of 300,000 homes. TVA will install four scrubbers to cut sulfur dioxide emissions and another system to reduce nitrogen oxide levels.

Environmentalists protest action

Despite its goal to reduce pollution, the project has become a lightning rod for critics of coal-burning energy production. In April, environmental groups sued the TVA for not fully studying alternatives to the expensive upgrades, including retiring the more than 50-year-old plant.

“TVA in our view didn’t take a close enough look at the retirement option and other solutions to meet that demand,” said Jonathan Levenshus, who helps lead the Sierra Club’s Tennessee Beyond Coal campaign. “They could have taken a harder look at renewable energy, a harder look at efficiency.”

Environmental groups also have highlighted that the Gallatin project does nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last week, the EPA announced new limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that new power plants could emit and renewed an Obama administration promise to eventually impose those caps on older plants.

If those caps come to pass, TVA would again be facing the question of what to do with the Gallatin site.

Earlier this month, a financial firm recommended that the TVA scrap the Gallatin project in favor of resurrecting an incomplete nuclear power plant in Alabama. Investment group Credit Suisse said the nuclear plant would allow TVA to avoid rate increases and keep electricity costs lower. It also would be far cheaper than installing expensive carbon capturing technology at the Gallatin plant to comply with potential new greenhouse gas limits.

Businesses prepare

For their part, several businesses in Gallatin are looking forward to the project as a way to spur more economic activity in the town. TVA estimates that as many as 900 contract workers will be needed for construction of the emissions devices. Hundreds have already arrived, said Scott Brooks, a spokesman for the federal agency.

Today, the city is set to have a meeting with businesses and officials from TVA to answer questions on how firms can prepare for the workers who will be in town.

“We’re glad the steam plant is going to remain open,” Gallatin Mayor Jo Ann Graves said. “It’s going to provide a lot of jobs for people in this area.”

She expects that workforce to need housing and to shop at local stores. Graves said the pollution reduction will be another positive for the community.

“It’s cleaner air for all of our citizens,” she said.

Some Gallatin businesses already are making plans to capitalize on the influx of workers.

“For us as a hotel, hopefully they will come in here and improve revenue for the city and for ourselves,” said Ash Patel, owner of the GuestHouse International Inn.

Patel bought the hotel on West Main Street in November and spent nearly $300,000 to renovate 70 of its 80 rooms.

While the renovation hasn’t come cheap, Patel said he hopes a discounted weekly rate for contract workers and others needing long-term lodging will help bring in more revenue and add financial stability for years to come.

“Since we put a lot of money into this hotel, we are expecting to pay our bills at least with this crew coming in during the next five years,” Patel said. “It is revenue that will help us be stable with our business.”

Contact Josh Brown at 615-726-5964 or Contact Josh Cross at 615-575-7115 or

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