Widows Creek Fossil Plant

From Global Energy Monitor

Widows Creek Fossil Plant was a coal-fired power station owned and operated by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in northeast Alabama.

The last unit of the power station was retired in September 2015. Google has proposed a US$600 million project that will use the plant’s preexisting electric transmission lines to power a clean energy center, with construction planned for 2016. Google pledges to run the 350-acre facility entirely off of either solar or wind power, or a combination of both.[1]


The plant was located on Guntersville Reservoir along the Tennessee River.

Loading map...


The power station has eight coal-fired generating units and nameplate capacity of 1,969 megawatts. Construction of the power station commenced in 1950 and the last unit was commissioned in 1965. According to the TVA the "plant consumes about 10,000 tons of coal a day."[2]

Coal unit closures

August 2009: TVA considering shutting down some aging coal plants

In August 2009, CEO Tom D. Kilgore announced that TVA was studying the possibility of closing its John Sevier Fossil Plant in Tennessee and the oldest six units at Widows Creek. A federal judge has ordered TVA to install pollution equipment on the plants by the end of 2013, at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. However, the company has not yet budgeted any money for the improvements. In 2010 TVA is planning to begin building an $820 million gas-powered plant to replace the generation at its John Servier Plant. The agency has already reduced power production from the oldest six units at Widows Creek. Environmental groups want TVA to shut down or convert to cleaner fuels the oldest and least efficient of its coal plants, including Widows Creek, John Sevier, and Johnsonville plants.[3]

August 2010: TVA Announces Plans to Retire Widows Creek Units 1-6

On August 24, 2010 TVA announced that it will retire 9 coal-fired generating units totalling about 1,000 megawatts of capacity at three locations beginning in fiscal year 2011: Shawnee Fossil Plant Unit 10 in Kentucky, John Sevier Fossil Plant Units 1 and 2 in Tennessee, and Widows Creek Fossil Plant Units 1-6 in Alabama, including six units at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant. In addition TVA stated that it will going to eliminate 200 jobs at these plants starting in 2011, but the workers will be placed in other positions within TVA. CEO Tom D. Kilgore said that TVA would replace the sidelined coal power with greater reliance on nuclear power and energy efficiency.[4]

April 2011: TVA to phase out 18 coal units, including Widows Creek

On April 14, 2011, TVA and North Carolina settled the 5-year-old lawsuit - North Carolina v. TVA - over TVA emissions from its coal-fired plants. The deal was part of a larger settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over TVA violations of the clean air act at 11 of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee.[5]

As part of the North Carolina agreement, TVA agreed to phase out 18 units of its coal plants, adding up to 2,700 MW, and to install modern pollution controls on three dozen additional units.[6] The phase out includes two units at the John Sevier Fossil Plant, all 10 units at the Johnsonville Fossil Plant, both in Tennessee, and six units at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in north Alabama.[7][8]

As part of the EPA agreement, TVA will invest an estimated $3 to $5 billion on pollution controls, invest $350 million on clean energy projects, and pay a civil penalty of $10 million.[9]

Retirement plans for units 1-6

On April 14, 2011, TVA and North Carolina settled a 5-year-old lawsuit - North Carolina v. TVA - over TVA emissions from its coal-fired plants. As part of the agreement, TVA agreed to phase out 18 units of its coal plants, including six units at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant, taking all but two offline.[10][8] In May 2012, TVA began considering a switch to natural gas for the plant, linked up to a proposed natural gas pipeline from Tennessee through Alabama to Georgia.[11]

Units 1-6 were retired in stages from 2013 to 2014.[12]

November 2013: TVA announces plan to retire unit 8

On November 14, 2013, TVA announced that unit 8, one of the two remaining units of the plant, would be retired by 2015. TVA also announced retirements at the Colbert Fossil Plant and the Paradise Fossil Plant.[13][14]

Unit 7 planned for retirement October 2015

In May 2015 TVA said it would close the last remaining unit 7 at its Widows Creek coal plant in October 2015. Unit 7 was scheduled to be shut down in 2019, but TVA Chief Operating Officer Chip Pardee said early closure would be more favorable for TVA financially than continuing to operate it.[15]

Plant Data

TVA at the Crossroads, produced by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
  • Owner/Parent Company: Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Plant Nameplate Capacity: 1,969 MW
  • Units and In-Service Dates: 141 MW (1952), 141 MW (1952), 141 MW (1952), 141 MW (1953), 141 MW (1954), 141 MW (1954), 575 MW (1961), 550 MW (1965)
  • Retirement: Units 1-6: Retired in stages from May 2012 to July 2013; Unit 8 retired October 2014[8]; Unit 7 is planned for October 2015
  • Location: County Road 96, Stevenson, AL 35772
  • GPS Coordinates: 34.891361, -85.750778
  • Coal Consumption:
  • Coal Source: Dotiki Mine, West Elk Mine, Elk Creek Mine, Cardinal Mine, Big Run Mine[16]
  • Number of Employees:

Emissions Data

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 10,793,074 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 33,507 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions per MWh:
  • 2006 NOx Emissions: 17,184 tons
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions: 270 lb.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Widows Creek Fossil Plant

In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants.[17] The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma-related episodes and asthma-related emergency room visits, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, peneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal-fired power plants. Fine particle pollution is formed from a combination of soot, acid droplets, and metals formed from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and soot. Among those particles, the most dangerous are the smallest (smaller than 2.5 microns), which are so tiny that they can evade the lung's natural defenses, enter the bloodstream, and be transported to vital organs. Impacts are especially severe among the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. Low-income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, due to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities. The table below estimates the death and illness attributable to the Widows Creek Fossil Plant. Abt assigned a value of $7,300,000 to each 2010 mortality, based on a range of government and private studies. Valuations of illnesses ranged from $52 for an asthma episode to $440,000 for a case of chronic bronchitis.[18]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from the Widows Creek Fossil Plant

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 93 $680,000,000
Heart attacks 140 $15,000,000
Asthma attacks 1,500 $79,000
Hospital admissions 67 $1,600,000
Chronic bronchitis 57 $25,000,000
Asthma ER visits 88 $33,000

Source: "Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution," Clean Air Task Force interactive table, accessed February 2011

Coal Waste Site

Coal waste spill

On January 9, 2009, Tennessee Valley Authority confirmed another coal waste spill at its Widows Creek plant in northeast Alabama, less than three weeks after the enormous Tennessee coal ash spill at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant. The spill, which TVA said originated from a gypsum treatment operation, released about 10,000 gallons of toxic gypsum material, some of which spilled into Widows Creek and the nearby Tennessee River.[19]

Gypsum ponds contain limestone spray from smokestack scrubbers, which trap sulfur dioxide emissions before they are released into the air and turn them into sludge and solid waste.[20] According to a TVA statement, the spill occurred at 6 AM when a cap dislodged from a 30-inch standpipe, releasing material from the gypsum pond into a settling pond, which then reached capacity and overflowed.[21]

Widows Creek ranked 20th on list of most polluting power plants in terms of coal waste

In January 2009, Sue Sturgis of the Institute of Southern Studies compiled a list of the 100 most polluting coal plants in the United States in terms of coal combustion waste (CCW) stored in surface impoundments like the one involved in the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill.[22] The data came from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for 2006, the most recent year available.[23]

Widows Creek Fossil Plant ranked number 20 on the list, with 1,864,177 pounds of coal combustion waste released to surface impoundments in 2006.[22]

"High Hazard" Surface Impoundment

In July 2009, TVA reclassified the surface impoundment at Widow's Creek as having High Hazard Potential. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not assess of the likelihood of such an event. TVA had originally ranked all of its sites as "low" risk, but revised those rankings two weeks after the EPA released its list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash dumps.[24]

2011: Study finds dangerous level of hexavalent chromium at Widows Creek waste site

A report released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011 stated that there are many health threats associated with a toxic cancer-causing chemical found in coal ash waste called hexavalent chromium. The report specifically cited 29 sites in 17 states where the contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash and included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin. In Alabama, the TVA Colbert Fossil Plant in Tuscambia and the TVA Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson were both reported as having high levels of chromium seeping from unlined retention ponds.[25]

According to EPA data, the Widows Creek coal ash site is an unlined pond. Hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) was reported at the site above 100 ppb (parts per billion) - 5,000 times the proposed California drinking water goals and above the federal drinking water standard.[25]

As a press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[26]

Citizen Groups

See also Alabama and coal

Articles and Resources


  1. Natasha Geiling, "The Future Is Here: Google Is Turning An Old Coal Plant Into A Clean Energy-Powered Data Center," Climate Progress, June 25, 2015
  2. Tennessee Valley Authority, "Widows Creek Fossil Plant", Tennessee Valley Authority website, accessed June 2008.
  3. "TVA may shutter aging coal-fired plants," Chattanooga Times Free Press, August 24, 2009.
  4. "TVA to idle 9 coal-fired units," Tennessee Valley Authority press release, August 24, 2010.
  5. "TVA settles with N.C. over coal plant emissions" News Observer.com, April 14, 2011.
  6. "Blockbuster Agreement Takes 18 Dirty TVA Coal-Fired Power Plant Units Offline" Sierra Club, April 14, 2011.
  7. "TVA Phasing out Hundreds of Jobs at Coal Plants" ABC, April 14, 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Consent Decree," North Carolina v. TVA, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville, accessed April 20, 2011 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "TVA" defined multiple times with different content
  9. "EPA Landmark Clean Air Act Settlement with TVA to Modernize Coal-Fired Power Plants and Promote Clean Energy Investments / State-of-the-art pollution controls and clean energy technology to provide up to $27 billion in annual health benefits" EPA, April 14, 2011.
  10. "TVA Phasing out Hundreds of Jobs at Coal Plants" ABC, April 14, 2011.
  11. Ben Benton, [http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/may/13/TVA-natural-gas-pipeline-jackson-county-for-region/?print "Natural gas pipeline considered for tri-state region,"} Times Free Press, May 13, 2012.
  12. Form EIA-860 Data - Schedule 3, Generator Data, US EIA, 2014
  13. Paul Gattis, "TVA to cut more than 150 employees at two north Alabama plants," All Alabama, November 14, 2013
  14. Steven Mufson, "Tennessee Valley Authority to close 8 coal-fired power plants," Washington Post, November 14, 2013
  15. "TVA to close last unit at Widows Creek coal plant, 90 jobs lost," Alabama.com, May 7, 2015
  16. "EIA 423 and Schedule 2 of EIA-923," EIA 923 Schedules 2, 2011.
  17. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  18. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010
  19. Bruce Nilles, "Coal Waste Spills by the Dozen?," Daily Kos, January 9, 2009.
  20. "Waste Spills From a Second TVA Coal-Fired Power Plant," Environment News Service, January 9, 2009.
  21. "SECOND TVA SPILL: Dam Breaks At Alabama Coal Plant," Associated Press, January 9, 2009.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Sue Sturgis, "Coal's ticking timebomb: Could disaster strike a coal ash dump near you?," Institute for Southern Studies, January 4, 2009.
  23. TRI Explorer, EPA, accessed January 2009.
  24. Coal waste
  25. 25.0 25.1 "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash" Earthjustice & Sierra Club, February 1, 2011.
  26. "Coal ash waste tied to cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies" Alicia Bayer, Examiner.com, February 1, 2011.

External Resources

Related GEM.wiki articles

External Articles