Coal fired plants are continuing their downward spiral as the Paradise and Bull Run plants will close, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said Thursday.

The intent is to close the final Paradise unit by the end of 2020, and the Bull Run plant by the end of 2023, said TVA CFO John Thomas said. The Paradise Fossil Plant is in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. The Bull Run plant is near Oak Ridge, TN.

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“Analysis over the past several months shows that closing two additional fossil plants is the right action to take at this time, financially and operationally,” outgoing TVA President and Chief Executive Bill Johnson told board members. “It is not about coal. This decision is about economics.”

The half-century-old coal plants were designed to operate at full capacity about 80 percent of the time, he said. They can’t be speedily started, or easily provide varying levels of power.

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“To get these plants to run on Thursday, you have to start them on Tuesday,” Johnson said.

The changing nature of power demand, and of TVA’s generation system, means the two coal plants can only run about 10 percent of the time, and that’s just not cost-effective, he said.

The power provider is able to meet its base demand more economically without them, Johnson said.

“We can avoid over $1 billion of lifetime cost on these units,” he said.

But the retirements will only drop coal’s contribution to TVA’s generation system by about 1 percent, meaning the share of power coming from coal will remain at today’s 17 percent for the next decade, Johnson said.

TVA closed five coal plants from 1966 to 2016, including three since 2012. It still operates six; the loss of Paradise and Bull Run will drop that to four.

TVA will spend $2.3 billion on the rest of its coal fleet over the next five years; the two plant closures won’t really change what the agency spends on coal, Thomas said.

Johnson said he expects TVA to keep using coal until at least 2050; no further plant closures are currently under discussion.

The Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, began with two coal-burning units in 1963, adding a third in 1970. The two older units shut down in 2017, and the same year TVA opened a $1 billion natural gas plant on the site. The gas plant employs 30 to 35 people, according to TVA spokesman Scott Brooks.

Closure of the Bull Run plant near Oak Ridge passed unanimously. Several environmental groups immediately issued statements praising the decision to close the two coal plants.

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