Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep burning coal at a Kentucky power plant.TVA operates the Paradise Fossil Plant in Western Kentucky. This summer, it released an environmental assessment and took public comment on the plant’s future. Because of upcoming stricter regulations for mercury and air toxins released from power plants, the company has to decide whether to install pollution controls on the plant and keep burning coal, or switch to natural gas.McConnell met with TVA CEO William Johnson earlier this week to make the case for continued coal use at Paradise. Then he followed up with a letter: We are well aware of the pressure that public utilities face from the Obama Administration to transition from using coal to alternative sources of energy. However, we would like to remind the TVA of the importance of maintaining an all-inclusive energy portfolio. To allow a historically abundant and proven resource, such as coal, to fall by the wayside would ultimately threaten our energy independence. Accordingly, we request the TVA maintain existing coal-fired operations—that utilize Kentucky-produced coal stocks—as your agency considers alternative sources in conjunction with coal for electricity generation.McConnell also expressed worries about job losses at the plant, which currently has 400 employees. TVA’s environmental assessment estimates the plant’s workforce would be smaller if Paradise is converted to natural gas, but doesn’t give an exact number.There are three units at Paradise, and the company plans to keep the largest unit as-is, burning coal. Unit three accounts for about half of the electricity the plant generates. Because TVA is a federal corporation, it doesn’t have to seek approval from the Kentucky Public Service Commission before it makes a change in its electricity generation that will effect ratepayers.TVA previously announced that it wouldn’t buy coal from Central Appalachia (which includes Eastern Kentucky) anymore, because it’s no longer economical. But that decision won’t have an effect on the Paradise Plant. The power plant used more than 6 million tons of coal last year; 83 percent of that coal was from Western Kentucky.
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