Coal, Material Handling, News, O&M

TVA offers Q&A on issues surrounding coal-fired Bull Run future closure

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which voted to retire the coal-fired Bull Run Fossil Plant in less than four years, also has heard a vast amount of response from its customers and stakeholders, both good and bad.

The 889-MW Bull Run, also known as the Bull Run Steam Plant, has been operating since 1967 in Oak Ridge, Tenn. It was the only one-unit coal-fired facility ever built by the TVA.

Last year, the TVA decided to close both Bull Run and Paradise power plants. The closure announcements came on the recommendation of the utility’s environmental assessment committee and against the social media entity of President Trump.

At the time, then TVA CEO Bill Johnson said the closures were economic decisions, meant to save hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance and upgrade costs.

The TVA just released a Q&A about Bull Run Fossil Plant plans on its website in response to many questions and concerns raised over the decision process. Bull Run is scheduled to be retired by the end of 2023:

Here is the Q&A:

Will existing streams be re-routed to accommodate landfill expansions at Bull Run?

TVA has been working toward the permitting of a proposed new landfill to store coal combustion residuals on TVA property adjacent to the Bull Run site since 2013, when the first permit document was submitted to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).  While the TVA Board has decided to close the Bull Run Fossil plant in 2023, TVA must still be ready, if necessary, to store coal combustion residuals (CCR) produced before the closure and/or to store CCR that could be removed from the Bull Run site to the proposed new landfill pending the results of numerous environmental studies.  These studies are being conducted under the direction of TDEC.  To accommodate this possibility, TVA continues to seek the required permits to construct the new dry storage landfill.  If this new landfill is needed for CCR storage, TVA will need to reroute approximately 3,500 feet of a stream that runs through the area where the proposed new landfill will be constructed.  This will require TVA to obtain permits from TDEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  TVA will not alter the stream until the entire permit process is complete, and the landfill is approved and permitted by TDEC.  TVA has not decided whether to build this landfill. 

Will the landfill change classification from the existing permits?

TVA’s existing permitted landfills at the Bull Run site are Class II landfills, and this classification will not change.  The proposed new CCR landfill, which requires a new solid waste permit, would also be a Class II landfill if constructed.  

Will out-of-county waste be deposited at the Bull Run site?

No, as discussed in the Environmental Impact Statement for this project, CCR sent to the proposed new landfill, if constructed, will be from the Bull Run site.  TVA will not bring CCR from any other sites to Bull Run.

Does a timeline exist for the step-down and future closure of the Bull Run facility? 

Bull Run will continue operating until 2023.  The decommissioning process will begin shortly after the retirement of the unit and will last approximately five to six years.  The decommissioning and restoration process will be subject to environmental review before TVA begins the process, and the public will have the opportunity to provide comments on the environmental review.

Will the facility be totally decommissioned, or will it be converted to another class-energy production facility?   

TVA is committed to working closely with economic development and community leaders and elected officials as we prepare for the future of the Bull Run site.  Future uses of the site, including other possible energy generation on site, have not been determined.    TVA will conduct necessary environmental reviews of the decommissioning and restoration options before beginning that process, and the public will have the opportunity to provide comments.     

The process by which TVA retires plants has generally been similar at each location after conducting the necessary environmental reviews.  Above-ground structures associated with the fossil fuel power generation have been removed, and below-grade basements, hoppers, or bunkers have been removed or filled with compacted material to ensure suitability for industrial reuse.  As an example, demolition and restoration of the John Sevier Fossil Plant site in Rogersville, Tennessee, has been successfully completed.  TVA also has active projects at Widows Creek (AL), Colbert (AL), and Johnsonville (TN) for full demolition and restoration of the sites to brownfield conditions. 

TVA’s Economic Development (ED) group plays a key role in the decommissioning process by providing expertise on future industrial development options.  This includes ensuring that key infrastructure attributes such as river, rail, roadway access, and power availability are preserved.  At the appropriate time, usually as the decommissioning process is nearing completion, the ED team will engage an outside consultant to conduct a study of the site to help determine what industries to target based on the site’s unique characteristics and infrastructure.

What plans are in place for the future of the current workforce?

The most challenging part of the decision to shut down Bull Run is knowing that people and communities will be impacted.  TVA is committed to working with employees to determine how best to support them.  For those employees who are interested in continuing employment with TVA, we have plans to re-deploy a significant portion of our workforce to support future needs at other site locations.  We completed a process recently in which we worked to align employee interests in other opportunities with vacancies and contractor displacements across TVA.  We also intend to offer a voluntary severance to those employees who are interested in leaving TVA at the time of the plant closure.  Lastly, we typically staff a transition team to work through decommissioning activities for an extended period after the unit shuts down.  A small number of employees will stay on to support that work.    

Will the building, smokestacks and transmission towers remain if the facility is totally abandoned?  

TVA will not abandon the Bull Run site.  As explained above (in response to question no. 2), the process by which TVA retires plants has generally been similar at each location after conducting the necessary environmental reviews.  This has involved removal of aboveground structures associated with the fossil fuel power generation and removal or filling with compacted material of below-grade basements, hoppers, or bunkers to ensure suitability for industrial reuse.  

Will the ash be relocated?  If so, what methods will be utilized to ensure the health of the workers and public while relocating the material to other suitable out-of-county locations?

TVA has not made any final decisions on the future of CCR stored at Bull Run.  We are in the early stages of an environmental investigation under the direction of TDEC, which will take time to complete. The results of those studies will help guide decisions on our CCR storage at Bull Run.  We will use science and public input, along with direction from TDEC, to help guide those decisions.  TVA will continue to work with TDEC, other regulators, and the public to determine what is in the best interest of all those we serve.

Safety is always TVA’s highest priority.  TVA will take every precaution necessary to keep workers safe during any CCR relocation or removal operations.  That includes following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) worker safety guidelines, working with our regulators to determine the proper protective gear for our workers, and requiring and providing protective equipment when conditions warrant.  Workers with safety and health concerns are encouraged to report issues to their managers and can always engage OSHA at any time. 

TVA is also committed to the safety of the communities surrounding Bull Run.  Years of monitoring show the health of the river is not being negatively affected by CCR storage at Bull Run.  The quality of the public waters surrounding Bull Run supports the various uses for which TDEC has designated those waters, including for water supply, fish and aquatic life, recreation, livestock watering and wildlife, irrigation, and navigation.  The public drinking water system is monitored and tested by local utilities and their results show no impact from CCR and other operations at Bull Run.  We do not have indication that there are adverse impacts to offsite groundwater caused by CCR from Bull Run.  However, TVA is conducting additional investigations at Bull Run under the direction of TDEC.    If TVA determines that it must construct the proposed new landfill to handle CCR from Bull Run, TVA will work to limit exposure by the public to truck traffic and CCR as it is being removed and relocated.

If the ash remains, will it be encapsulated and safe for current and future generation? 

Yes, federal and state regulations provide standards for the safe closure of CCR impoundments and landfills, including standards for capping and closing in place.  TVA will follow these standards if closure in place is the chosen closure methodology for the CCR storage units.  Federal and state regulations also require post-closure monitoring and maintenance obligations for at least 30 years after the unit is closed.  These standards and obligations ensure that the closure is protective of public health and the environment.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that, if conducted properly, closure in place is protective of human health and the environment.  The post-closure monitoring system will alert TVA and the public to any issues that may warrant future corrective action.

Is the ash safe in its current state to area residents including drinking water and recreation activities and enthusiasts?

Every solution for CCR management includes long-term monitoring to ensure the continued safety of CCR storage.  TVA follows limits set by our state permits and guidelines set by the EPA for discharges into the river.  Those limits are designed to be protective of human health and the environment.  Years of monitoring show the health of the river is not being negatively affected by CCR storage at Bull Run.  Water quality surrounding Bull Run supports TDEC-designated uses for water supply, fish and aquatic life, recreation, livestock watering and wildlife, irrigation, and navigation.  The public drinking water system is monitored and tested by local utilities and their results show no impact from CCR and other operations at Bull Run.    

We have an existing network of groundwater monitoring wells around the CCR units at Bull Run, which show concentrations of some constituents greater than naturallyoccurring levels.  There are no known groundwater issues from these units beyond TVA site boundaries.  However, we will continue monitoring even after the plant closes, and we will work with TDEC to address any issues that we find in our investigation.

Can the ash be repurposed for other products on or off site?

TVA beneficially reuses about 40% of its CCR valley-wide.  There are many factors that determine whether CCR can be beneficially used in various consumer products such as concrete, wallboard, and shingles.  At present, the previously-ponded CCR at Bull Run does not meet the quality specifications necessary for efficient reuse.  As TVA is considering the long-term management of CCR at Bull Run, TVA will continue to look for opportunities to beneficially use CCR.   

If the site is abandoned can it be redeveloped or reindustrialized for other purposes?

TVA will not abandon the site or walk away from its commitments to the community.  TVA will work with local economic development groups and elected leaders to determine the best use of the site, including potential redevelopment.  During TVA’s decommissioning process, TVA’s ED group will ensure that key infrastructure attributes such as river, rail, roadway access, and power availability are preserved for future possible redevelopment options.  At the appropriate time, the ED team will engage an outside consultant to conduct a study to help determine what industries to target based on the site’s unique characteristics and infrastructure.

What techniques can be utilized to ensure the stability of the current dikes, ash ponds and impoundments?  

TVA evaluates the structural stability of its CCR units by using industry dam safety standards and criteria.  The CCR units at Bull Run have been drilled to obtain information on the strength of the impounding structures.  TVA has installed instrumentation in the drilled holes that measure water levels, slope movement and weather data.  These instruments are automated in the field for continuous monitoring through a Geographical Information System.  The combination of instrumentation readings, impoundment strength data, facility geometry and weather data is used to continuously evaluate the stability performance of each CCR unit in accordance with federal and state safety criteria. 

Will the decommissioned site remain in the hands of TVA or can ownership be transferred to other public or private entities?

TVA will not abandon the site or walk away from our commitments to the community.  TVA has the ability to convey property to public or private entities pending completion of necessary environmental reviews and in compliance with the requirements of the TVA Act for disposal of property.  TVA is committed to working with local leaders to determine the best future use of the site.   

What will the site look like in 2025?

In 2025, TVA will likely be in the midst of the decommissioning process, which is anticipated to take approximately five to six years after plant retirement.  We will also be in the implementation phase of any corrective actions determined to be necessary as a result of the current ongoing investigation of the site under the direction of TDEC.  Those potential corrective actions have not been determined at this time, as the investigation continues.  As we have at other sites, TVA will work with local economic development groups and elected leaders to determine the best use of the Bull Run site.  We are mindful of the community’s keen interest in the future of the site, but at this time, our focus remains on the safe and reliable operation of the plant until its retirement in 2023.