After Long History, Paradise Coal Plant Ceases Operation

The generator breaker for Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) Paradise Unit 3 was opened on Feb. 1, removing the coal-fired power plant from service for the final time after 50 years of operation. Notably, TVA retiree Jim Chappell performed the task. Chappell was the electrical control wing operator who originally placed Unit 3 in service.

The Paradise Fossil Plant is located on the Green River in western Kentucky near the village of Paradise. Units 1 and 2 were commissioned in 1963. At the time, they were the largest units in the world—704 MW each. The 1,080-MW Unit 3 was added in 1970.

Paradise Coal Plant Had Strong Supporters

But a lot has changed since that time. TVA invested about $1 billion to build a 1,025-MW combined cycle natural gas plant (a 2017 POWER Top Plant award winner) next to the coal plant, and Units 1 and 2 were retired in 2017. When the closure of Unit 3 was being considered in late 2018, many high-level supporters lobbied to keep it in operation.

Kentucky Gov. Matthew Bevin sent a letter to TVA’s then-CEO Bill Johnson, writing that it “would be a huge mistake” to permanently shut down Paradise Unit 3. According to the governor, “the impact on our economy and our region’s (and nation’s) long-term energy grid reliability, would be devastating.”

Even President Trump pressured TVA to keep Unit 3 in operation. On Feb. 11, 2019, he posted on Twitter, “Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix and @TVAnews should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!” The TVA responded on Twitter that it would “give serious consideration to all factors.”

Sign of the Times

Nonetheless, after a detailed review of fuel, transmission, economic, and environmental impacts, and a thorough assessment of public input, the TVA Board of Directors approved the retirement of Paradise Unit 3 on Feb. 14, 2019. Now, less than a year later, the coal plant (Figure 1) has closed its doors.

1. Paradise Fossil Plant. Courtesy: TVA

“There’s a sense of pride and passion at the site that I’ve never seen before,” said Steve Holland, Paradise Fossil plant manager. “During its last run, everyone was supportive, volunteering to come in on their days off or work overtime. The team took ownership of the plant. That’s what makes TVA great—ownership and pride.”

“The Paradise team finished strong,” said Kris Edmonson, TVA’s vice president of Power Operations—Coal. “I commend the team for their commitment to TVA, the plant and each other. It’s difficult to stay in the game when you have closure looming over your head, but this team persevered as well as many others that have worked at Paradise Fossil Plant leave a strong legacy.”

TVA said it has been working with the approximately 110 employees at Paradise Unit 3 to find other positions within the fleet, or to retire. Some will remain at the site over the next two years as a transition team. TVA also will work with the local community to determine any potential future uses for the former fossil site. It said environmental reviews are underway across the TVA system to determine the feasibility of locating new generation at the location as well as others around the region.

History Preserved

In recent years, TVA has retired a number of fossil plants, including John Sevier, Johnsonville, Colbert, and Widows Creek, but that doesn’t mean the facilities have been forgotten. Some employees of the government-owned power provider have stepped up to help preserve the history.

For example, TVA said Bob Deacy, senior vice president—Generation Projects and Fleet Services, and Roger Waldrep, manager—Decommissioning, have partnered with TVA’s Historian, Pat Ezzell, to save unique features from the plants (Figure 2) as a way to memorialize the facilities and their employees. Among items TVA’s team has repurposed are the original “Built for the People of the United States” lettering and tan marble from the Widows Creek Fossil Plant’s Unit 1-6 lobby area; the bust of Major Thomas H. Allen that once stood in the Allen Fossil Plant lobby; and the painted mural that was featured in the Johnsonville Fossil Plant lobby.

2. A mural made up of 126 painted ceramic tiles was preserved from the Widows Creek Fossil Plant. Historian Pat Ezzell said the mosaic—created by artist Robert Birdwell—captures TVA’s power program, featuring dams, transmission lines, and stacks at the fossil plants. There is even a rocket blasting off, which captures the late 1960s race to the moon. Courtesy: TVA

It’s unclear what, if anything, will be saved from the Paradise Fossil Plant.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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