Environmental group sues TVA, as questions linger about the future of the Cumberland City Coal Plant

Cumberland Fossil Plant
Posted at 5:04 PM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 21:20:26-04

CUMBERLAND CITY, Tenn. (WTVF) — Some see it as an eyesore, others see it as an economic promise.

The Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired plant has been open northwest of Nashville in Cumberland City since 1973, yet now, the energy authority is considering its fate. But an environmental group said TVA may not be playing by the rules.

Last year, TVA announced they will review the options moving forward for the Cumberland City energy provider.

Those options are:

  • The coal plant could remain open a little longer, but would eventually close by 2035 to meet TVA's goal of closing all coal plants.
  • Close the coal plant but open up a Combined Cycle and Natural Gas Plant in Cumberland City.
  • Close the coal plant but open up a natural gas plant and other green energy options away from Cumberland City.

TVA is supposed to still be going through a lengthy process as required by law, but according to the Southern Environmental Law Center, some of TVA's paperwork suggests otherwise.

"As a public utility, TVA owes it to its ratepayers to be transparent about what it plans to do," said George Nolan, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, or SELC.

A precedent agreement, obtained by SELC through a Freedom of Information Act request, suggested perhaps TVA has already decided to replace the plant with a combined cycle and natural gas plant.

"TVA has actually signed two lengthy written contracts with methane gas pipeline companies, apparently intended to supply gas plants at those particular locations," Nolan said.

So what does the contract entail? The SELC doesn't know because most of the pages delivered to the group were heavily redacted.

"It blacked out huge portions of the contracts," he said.

Nolan said he thought those redactions suggest TVA isn't clearing the air on their future plans, so they're suing TVA in hopes of them releasing a less redacted version of the contracts.

"TVA should not be allowed to play hide the ball in the face of a valid Freedom of Information Act request," said Nolan.

NewsChannel 5 asked Scott Brooks, TVA's spokesperson, if a decision has been made when it comes to the Cumberland Fossil Plant.

"Absolutely not," Brooks said.

Brooks said the agency is still in the midst of a lengthy environmental impact study, and they want to hear feedback from the public.

"We are in the beginning stages of a process that will help make that decision," said Brooks.

As for the pipeline agreements, Brooks said energy company Kinder Morgan has agreed to start expanding their natural gas pipeline network near Cumberland City, in the hope that TVA will choose that option.

But Brooks emphasized, that doesn't mean that will be the decision.

"They are following the timeline that they believe is necessary to give us that option if that’s what we choose," Brooks said. "We have not signed any kind of agreement to purchase natural gas because the pipeline is not in place. So we still have the option to choose other options based on the outcome of the public NEPA process."

When it comes to heavy redactions, Brooks told NewsChannel 5 they followed federal law.

"There are documents that have to be redacted for security and privacy reasons, so those documents were provided to the best of our ability, as far as I know," he said.

But for this burning question, Nolan demands a clear answer.

"The rate payers and the people have the right to know what TVA’s business arrangements are because TVA is a public agency," said Nolan.

TVA tells NewsChannel 5 that the environmental study should be done in about a month, then they will announce public hearings where people impacted by this can share their thoughts.

NewsChannel 5 will share those dates as soon as they are made available.