A string of dynamite charges toppled six smokestacks at the Colbert Fossil Plant in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on Aug. 25. This marked the implosion of Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) fifth coal-generation asset since 2017. The plant was originally closed in 2016, and the stacks and a portion of the 1950s-era landmark were leveled as part of a $43 million demolition initiative that will clear the Tuscumbia site for future development and cleaner energy.
All demolished plant materials are being recycled.
“It’s been a 3-year process to get to this point,” Roger Waldrep, TVA vice president of major projects, says. “As we approach the finish line, safety is our primary concern. I’m proud of the team because they were able to complete the implosion without any issues.”
Former Colbert Plant Manager Steve Hargrove, now retired from TVA, has lived in the shadow of the stacks since he was a child. He worked 25 years at the plant and said Aug. 25 was the first time in his life he’s seen a bare skyline from his bluff home overlooking the Tennessee River.
Hargrove now serves on the board of directors of the Shoals Economic Development Authority and is also the general manager of Sheffield Utilities—the local power company that serves the city of Sheffield and rural Colbert County.
“I don’t know anything but Colbert,” Hargrove says. “I opposed the decision to close the plant back in 2016 because of the 325 jobs that would be lost, but now I believe TVA made the right call.”
He explained how customer demand for cleaner, cheaper power is making investments in coal alternatives necessary.
“I’m sad to see it go, but I guess the guy who invented the horse and buggy had to have a sad day, too,” he says.
Devoted to clean energy
In July, TVA announced it will invest $500 million to add to the existing natural gas power-generating units that are also located on the Colbert 1,300-acre reservation. New gas units are about 70 percent more efficient than TVA’s aging coal plants. As TVA continues to retire more fossil plants, natural gas is providing a cleaner alternative while the utility makes upgrades to its 109-unit hydroelectric fleet and strengthens its solar-generation portfolio, the company says.
TVA plans to add 10,000 megawatts of new solar by 2035.
"Coal is what electrified our nation,” says Jeff Lyash, TVA president and CEO. “Coal has played a huge role in getting us to where we are today. But we are leading the way in building a cleaner energy future.
“Our investments in cleaner and more efficient-energy resources are helping TVA keep energy costs low, which is driving our region's recovery now and contributing to a sustainable future.”
For Hargrove and the SEDA’s economic developers, TVA’s green power programs are providing the incentives that could help secure new industries looking to establish operations in Colbert County. In addition, Hargrove expects the riverfront site of the imploded plant to be attractive for a future development.
“We feel like clearing the site could be a really good thing for us down the road,” he says.
Future of coal and carbon
Since 2005, TVA has reduced carbon emissions by more than 60 percent compared to 2005 levels when it generated 57 percent of its electricity with coal. The utility plans to reduce its emission levels by 70 percent by 2030, 80 percent by 2035 and achieve net-zero emission generation by 2050.
“TVA never stands still,” Lyash says. “Building a clean, low-cost energy future is an essential path for our region to compete for jobs in the new clean economy.”
TVA has retired six coal plants in the past decade, which reduced the amount of energy produced by coal to about 14 percent. The utility says it could retire its entire coal fleet by 2035, pending necessary reviews and approvals.
Today, TVA generates 63 percent of its energy from carbon-free sources. It is the greenest utility in the Southeast with 50 percent more renewable generation than its closest regional peer, according to Lyash.
“Businesses want clean energy, and we are committed to using our power system to revitalize both rural and urban communities,” Lyash says. “Our region is open for business, and TVA is helping make our communities the premier destination for companies that want to achieve their sustainability goals.”
Watch the video of the implosion below, courtesy of TVA: