TVA Retires Aging Johnsonville Coal-fired Plant

The Johnsonville Fossil Plant in Humphreys County, Tennessee, came online in 1951, and provided power for generations of Tennesseans as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) vast coal-fired fleet. But the end of 2017 also marked the end of an era for Johnsonville, as the TVA shut down the last operating unit at the plant.

The closure on December 31 comes as TVA continues to comply with environmental regulations as part of a 2011 agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act at 11 of the utility’s coal-fired plants in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky. As part of that deal, TVA has said it will shut down the coal-fired units at the 741-MW Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis, Tennessee, by June of this year, replacing that generation with natural gas.

The utility today has seven operating coal-fired plants with a total of 29 generating units.

Four of the remaining units are at the Gallatin Fossil Plant near Nashville, where a federal judge in August last year ordered the utility to dig up coal ash and move it to a lined waste site.

Richard "Mac" Flowers, a 91-year-old TVA retiree who worked for the utility for 37 years, opens the breaker on the last operating coal-fired unit at the Johnsonville Fossil Plant in Tennessee, taking the unit off the grid on December 31, 2017, after 66 years of commercial service. Courtesy: TVA

Richard “Mac” Flowers, a 91-year-old TVA retiree who worked for the utility for 37 years, opens the breaker on the last operating coal-fired unit at the Johnsonville Fossil Plant in Tennessee, taking the unit off the grid on December 31, 2017, after 66 years of commercial service. Courtesy: TVA

Johnsonville had a generation capacity of 1,485 MW, but just four of the plant’s 10 units were still in operation prior to the closure. Six units were retired in 2015. TVA has replaced the plant’s generation with the 1,133-MW Johnsonville Combustion Turbine Plant, which has operated for several years on 700 acres adjacent to the coal plant. The gas-fired plant has 16 General Electric (GE) simple cycle combustion turbines.

The Johnsonville closure included a ceremony in which TVA retiree Richard “Mac” Flowers, 91, opened the breaker to separate the last unit from the grid. Flowers worked at TVA for 37 years.

In a statement, Steve Holland, the assistant plant manager at Johnsonville, said, “Our people have always taken great pride and ownership in what they do here at Johnsonville, and their dedication was evident up until the very last moment we ceased operations. We can look back now with a strong sense of accomplishment as Johnsonville Fossil Plant becomes a standout chapter in TVA’s long history of service to the people of the Valley.”

Unit 1 at Johnsonville entered commercial operation on October 27, 1951; nine more units entered service over the next several years, with Unit 10 coming online on August 20, 1959.

The plant produced several notable achievements. TVA said that in 2011, Unit 1 reached a streak of 1,082 days of continuous operation before being taken off-line for maintenance, at the time the second-longest run of any coal plant worldwide. Unit 4 at the plant in 2015 marked the third-longest recorded run, after operating continuously for 1,073 days.

Johnsonville was the oldest coal plant in TVA’s fleet, just one of the considerations for its closure. “Johnsonville Fossil (Plant) was the oldest in the TVA fossil fleet and did not have upgraded controls like Cumberland does,” said Scott Brooks, a TVA spokesman. “That’s one of the factors when we evaluated it, along with the other plants that did not have controls.” Cumberland, at 2,470 MW of generation capacity, is the largest TVA coal plant.

“The only fossil plant left to close under the 2011 agreement is Allen (Fossil Plant) in Memphis,” Brooks said. “We will retire those four units by the end of this year to be replaced with a combined cycle natural gas plant which is almost complete nearby.”

TVA is among the power generators with industrial manufacturing facilities near some of its plants. The Cumberland plant, which has upgraded pollution controls including scrubbers, sells the gypsum collected during the scrubbing process to an adjacent Georgia-Pacific drywall plant. The Johnsonville gas plant has an adjacent chemical plant operated by Chemours, which utilizes steam from the power plant to produce titanium dioxide, a white color pigment used in many products, including toothpaste.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).