The Tennessee Valley Authority announced yesterday that in addition to the shuttering of 18 coal-fired power plants they agreed to as part of a 2011 settlement, they will close down an additional 8. But these are 8 large plants in Alabama and Kentucky that account for 3,000 megawatts of capacity, a fifth of the TVA's coal-fired generation capacity, so this is a big deal.
Let us not be naive. TVA, like others, sees the future in cheap natural gas. No green group has done a tenth as much to phase out coal as has the explosion of natural gas development in the United States, an environmentally mixed bag, but a carbon boon. Yet at least publicly, the TVA says that it plans to generate its electricity from a mix of nuclear (40%), coal (20%), natural gas (20%), and renewable energies (20%). TVA cites environmental and economic concerns, and the prospect of greenhouse gas emissions regulations for existing power plants.
But it is telling that the old guard of power generation, the "big dirties," the large investor-owned utilities such as TVA and the American Electric Power Company, are moving ahead even without current binding greenhouse gas regulations or carbon pricing. It is equally telling that they are choosing to get ahead of the curve, rather than pushing the curve back through litigation (though that is always a part of every utlity's policy portfolio). These firms are so far ahead of the conventional wisdom (such as it were) in the Republican Party that you'd think you were talking about Swedish companies and Kenyan politicians. Yesterday, Congressman Steve Scalise, from Louisiana, told EPA Air Administrator Janet McCabe, that she is "not living in the real world." Her delusion, in the eyes of Scalise and his Tea Party compatriots, is that carbon capture technology will help coal-fired power plants comply with forthcoming regulations. The bottom line is that it will be very difficult to build a coal-fired power plant in the United States from now on. But you can count on the fingers of one hand the investor-owned utilities that are planning to build new coal-fired power plants. They do not include the likes of TVA and AEP, and almost all of the large investor-owned utilities. Steve Scalise is very irked on their behalf. Gosh, maybe it's Scalise and his monosyllabic buddies that are a little lost. This dynamic is the kind of echo chamber that has held up Ted Cruz as a hero instead of a laughingstock.