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TVA considers the future of coal power plant in Cumberland City

Cumberland Fossil Plant
Posted at 5:31 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 19:17:33-04

CUMBERLAND CITY, Tenn. (WTVF) — We're used to a changing skyline in Nashville, but not in Cumberland City, where the coal plant there has provided power and jobs to the area for nearly 50 years.

Now that the Tennessee Valley Authority has decided to phase out coal power by the year 2035, the surrounding communities are worried about their future. "We’d hate to see it go but there’s good and bad in all of it," said Pat Tanner, a longtime resident of Erin, Tennessee. "It’d be kinda like a ghost town around here."

The Cumberland Fossil Plant opened in 1972, employing hundreds of local workers, including three generations of Pat's family at salaries not typically found in rural America. "It’s the best paying job around," she said.

It's a fact that vexes the mayor of nearby Erin, Tennessee. "How’s this going to affect our livelihood, the community as a whole?" said Mayor Paul Bailey.

But the move is a victory for environmental groups like the Sierra Club of Middle Tennessee. "Oh shut the thing down. It is one of the oldest and dirtiest plants in the country," said Scott Branbury of the Sierra Club.

Branbury believes the move could heal the polluted air and water surrounding the plant. "We know that toxic chemicals are leaking from the ash into the groundwater in the area," said Branbury.

Pat also wonders, after losing her husband and son-in-law to cancer, if it could heal the people who live here too. "I’m gonna tell ya, we’ve heard a lot of rumors about it causing cancer and different things," said Tanner.

TVA is now taking into consideration what comes after the steam stops. Essentially, there are three options:

1) Close the plant and TVA leaves the area, relying on energy from another TVA site.
2) Close the plant and TVA replaces it in Cumberland City with a different form of energy generation.

"We’re going to be looking at whether that’s natural gas, whether that’s renewable energy," said Scott Brooks, spokesperson for TVA.

A final decision from TVA's Board of Directors likely won't come until late 2022. In the meantime, they want to hear from you. "We want to hear from the public what we should be including, what we should be looking at; what we shouldn’t. Making sure we’ve covered all our bases," said Brooks.

You can send public comments or questions by following this link.

There is also a virtual open house about the scoping part of the process Thursday, May 27th at 5:30 pm. You can register by clicking here.

Most residents in the community know which option they'd pick. "If we could keep as many jobs as we possibly could," said Mayor Bailey.

Because for a community at a crossroads, they may not be able to afford a wrong turn. "They need the jobs here," said Tanner.