The Tennessee Valley Authority's board has voted to close six coal-powered units in Alabama and replace two others in Kentucky with a natural gas plant.
"This is a personal nightmare for me," said Peter Mahurin, a board member from Bowling Green, Ky. "But I must support what I believe to be in the best interest of TVA's customers."
Increasingly stringent environmental regulations and flat power demand have made it necessary to rethink how the nation's largest public utility generates power, CEO Bill Johnson said at the Thursday board meeting in Oxford, Miss.
In fiscal year 2013, coal accounted for 38 percent of TVA's portfolio while natural gas made up 8 percent. Johnson said he would like to see those numbers closer to 20 percent each over the next decade.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell met with Johnson last month to seek continued operation of all three coal-burning units at Paradise Fossil Plant in Drakesboro, Ky. The board had previously approved upgrading the two oldest units with environmental controls. But on Thursday, Chief Operating Officer Chip Pardee recommended building a natural gas plant instead.
He said the third unit at Paradise is newer and has sufficient environmental controls to continue operating on coal.
In a news release after the vote, McConnell blamed the Obama administration for the unit closures.
"I fought hard to prevent these changes and fortunately one of the units will continue to burn coal, saving hundreds of jobs," he said.
Johnson said about 200 of the 400 jobs at Paradise will be affected, and the units will continue to run until new environmental regulations come into effect. That could be in 2015 or even later, if an extension is granted.
Rick Newman is the top elected official in Muhlenberg County, where the Paradise plant is located. His father was a coal miner for 32 years, and he was upset by the decision to shut down two units there.