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Tennessee Valley Authority proposes 8th gas plant in 3 years

Methane gas is extracted from subsurface rock by drilling, often in the form of fracking. Methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at heating the planet in a 20-year period.
Courtesy Bureau of Land Management
Methane gas is extracted from subsurface rock by drilling, often in the form of fracking. Methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at heating the planet in a 20-year period.

The Tennessee Valley Authority announced last week that it plans to build a methane gas plant in central Mississippi. This is the eighth proposed fossil fuel plant in just three years.

The planned plant would be a gas combustion turbine facility capable of producing a half gigawatt, or 500 megawatts, of power.

The project site is a brownfield property — meaning the land may have hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants — managed by TVA in Lowndes County, Mississippi. Between 1998 and the early 2000s, a private company operated a gas plant with six combustion turbines. The gas plant was closed in 2007 but its adjacent substation remains in operation. TVA plans to use the existing gas and transmission infrastructure.

TVA claims the new gas plant will help with increased electricity demand, decarbonization and reliability. The utility forecasts that electricity demand will rise 1% annually over the next few years.

Building new gas capacity will not reduce planet-warming emissions. In the past few years, the climate impact of using methane gas, also called fossil gas or “natural gas,” has been investigated with satellites. Recent research suggests gas may be as bad as coal in its contribution to climate change due to methane leaks from drilling sites and pipelines.

The reliability of gas is now under greater scrutiny, too, thanks to blackouts related to recent Arctic blasts, like Winter Storm Elliott in 2022 and Winter Storm Uri in 2021. TVA had generation issues in at least 10 of its 17 gas plants last year.

“The blackouts were caused by failing gas and coal infrastructure,” said Amy Kelly, of the Sierra Club in Tennessee. “You would think TVA would be reconsidering its plans to build out so much gas. But instead they’re doubling down and adding even more.”

Kelly also mentioned concerns for the long-term cost of gas, which could be more expensive than renewable options.

TVA has received pushback from federal officials, including 10 members of Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and local officials like former Nashville Mayor John Cooper for its continued pursuit of methane gas projects.

The federal utility —which provides power to 12 million customers across seven states — has planned the largest gas expansion of any utility in the nation this decade. Since 2021, TVA has proposed eight projects worth about 6.6 gigawatts, or approximately a fifth of the utility’s total energy capacity.

The public can comment on the latest project proposal for Mississippi until Jan. 19.

Caroline Eggers covers environmental issues with a focus on equity for WPLN News through Report for America, a national service program that supports journalists in local newsrooms across the country. Before joining the station, she spent several years covering water quality issues, biodiversity, climate change and Mammoth Cave National Park for newsrooms in the South. Her reporting on homelessness and a runoff-related “fish kill” for the Bowling Green Daily News earned her 2020 Kentucky Press Association awards in the general news and extended coverage categories, respectively. Beyond deadlines, she is frequently dancing, playing piano and photographing wildlife and her poodle, Princess. She graduated from Emory University with majors in journalism and creative writing.
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