TVA off to good start in meeting emissions goals

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority appears to have a good start in meeting goals set by President Barack Obama's administration aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, its CEO said Monday.

The Obama administration's plan unveiled Monday aims to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, in what would be one of the most significant U.S. actions on global warming. The proposal, expected to be finalized next year, is a centerpiece of Obama's efforts to deal with climate change.

The TVA said system-wide carbon emissions are currently 30 percent below 2005 levels — and they are projected to be 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. By that year, TVA's carbon emissions will be about one-half of what they were at their peak in 1995, the utility said.

Without knowing specifics of the new rule, it appears to be a continuation of a trend the TVA has been on since about 2005, TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson told reporters during a conference call Monday.

"We should have a good start on this, but again the details of the rule will be important," Johnson said, adding that TVA experts are studying the rule and its future effects.

TVA has worked to move away from coal-fired plants in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, amid calls from environmental and anti-pollution groups to eliminate coal plants.

The utility has added natural gas-fired plants and retired 14 coal-fired units while investing in emissions controls at existing plants. It also plans to bring online an additional carbon-free nuclear unit at Watts Bar in 2015.

The TVA also is working on a $1 billion gas plant to replace its two oldest coal-fired facilities at Paradise Fossil Plant in western Kentucky.

But the utility still has decisions to make about the future of other coal plants, including the Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis. By 2020, the utility still expects to get about 20 to 25 percent of its energy from coal, Johnson said.

Johnson said TVA will decide the fate of some coal plants before the rule is finalized. The rule "will be a consideration for us" but it probably won't drive the utility's decisions on the coal plants, Johnson said.

Jonathan Levenshus, a representative with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said the TVA is ahead of other utilities in reducing carbon emissions.

"But to maintain its lead, TVA should scale up renewable technologies and energy efficiency," Levenshus said.

According to Environmental Protection Agency figures, some states will be spared from cutting a full 30 percent. Kentucky has to make an 18 percent cut and Alabama has to reduce carbon emissions 27 percent, for example.

Other states have to go above the 30 percent target, such as Tennessee and Mississippi at 39 percent and Georgia at 44 percent.

The rule also will affect TVA's nuclear and hydro-electric facilities, Johnson said.

"It will make both of them more valuable and probably seek us to get more output from both those sources," Johnson said.

TVA is the nation's largest public utility, supplying power to about 9 million people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

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