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Rural Blog: Despite opposition from lawmakers, residents, TVA to close last coal-fired unit at Paradise

Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority voted Thursday morning to close the last remaining coal-fired generating unit at the federal utility’s Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County, despite opposition from President Trump, Gov. Matt Bevin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky’s other senator, Rand Paul.

TVA service region and facilities; Paradise plant is near top center, on the edge of the area. (Click on image for larger version)

“Residents had warned that closing Unit 3 at the plant, which employs 131 people, would hurt the local economy and force people to move away for work, and Trump sent a tweet earlier this week urging TVA to consider all factors before voting to close viable power plants like Unit 3 at Paradise,” Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “However, an analysis by the utility said the aging Unit 3 had deteriorated, had a relatively high rate of unplanned shutdowns, and would require significant costs for mechanical and environmental upgrades to keep it running.”

TVA President Bill Johnson told the board that the utility could save more than $1 billion by closing the Paradise unit and the Bull Run Fossil Plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn. “This decision is about economics. It’s about keeping rates as low as possible,” he said.

Estep notes that the three-unit Paradise plant “was once the largest coal-fired facility of its kind in the world,” and TVA replaced two of its coal units with a new plant fired by natural gas, the abundance and cheapness of which recently made it the top fuel for generating electricity in the U.S. (The hamlet of Paradise, which no longer exists, was made famous in 1971 by John Prine’s eponymous anti-strip mining song.)

McConnell asked the seven-member board to delay a decision until April 18, when Trump can replace two of President Obama’s appointees, with the Senate’s advice and consent. Board members serve five-year terms, so those appointments would give the board a Trump-appointed majority.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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