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VOL. 129 | NO. 133 | Thursday, July 10, 2014

Allen Gas Plant Would Be Historic Shift

By Bill Dries

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The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to vote in August on a proposal that would change the Allen Fossil Plant from being a predominantly coal-fired source of energy for the Memphis power grid to a new natural gas-fired plant. 

(Tennessee Valley Authority)

A new natural gas power plant to be built in the shadow of the Allen Steam Plant in Southwest Memphis got its first reviews Tuesday, July 8, at a Tennessee Valley Authority forum Downtown.

The session at Central Station featured lots of questions from citizens about the historic shift proposed, as well as some support for the conversion and some criticism.

The Allen Steam Plant, now formally known as the Allen Fossil Plant, would change from being a predominantly coal-fired source of energy for the Memphis power grid to a new natural gas-fired plant under a proposal the Tennessee Valley Authority board is scheduled to vote on in August.

The plant was built by Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division in the 1950s and bought, along with the property it stands on, by TVA in 1984.

The three units at the plant turn out 4.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough to supply 340,000 homes.

The fuel from the coal-burning units is supplemented by biogas from a wastewater treatment plant in the area operated by the city of Memphis. Allen also uses combustion turbine units to generate power.

The new plant to be built south of Plant and Riverport roads, south of the existing plant, would retain the biogas operation but convert the turbines and the coal units to natural gas-powered units generating power starting in late 2018.

The date is part of a consent decree TVA agreed to in order to settle a lawsuit over sulfur dioxide emissions from the plant.

“We looked at some other alternatives to (natural gas) as well. We did an assessment of several different technologies and considered four or five choices. It seems the most reasonable,” said Ashley Farless, author of the environmental assessment report that is now in its draft stage.

The forum Tuesday was to hear comments that might change the report that goes to the TVA board once it becomes final.

“It’s reliable for us,” she said of the natural gas option. “It helps us maintain our reliability to the whole valley. It helps keep the grid stable and all of those things that TVA promises.”

If converted to natural gas, the Allen plant would be the 16th in the multistate Tennessee Valley Authority system to use natural gas.

The proposal drew kudos as well as concerns from the Chickasaw Group of the Sierra Club.

“I’m very excited that we are going to stop burning coal here,” said Scott Banbury of the group.

But Banbury was critical of making the plant so reliant on natural gas instead of trying to also incorporate wind and solar power options.

“It’s not a matter of this or that. It’s a matter of bringing the best of all available technologies and resources to address the problem in a way that leads to a future that is sustainable,” he said. “We’re concerned at having all of our water heating, house heating and our electrical generation coming from the same fuel. … We could have major disruptions.”

He also thinks what is now a relatively low price for natural gas could become more volatile in the marketplace as its use becomes more widespread and there is competition for the supply.

“We’re going to have to have natural gas here,” Banbury conceded. “It’s something that we would like to see done on a level that is the bare minimum.”

The Sierra Club also has environmental concerns about the practice of fracking used to release natural gas for use.

The gas would be carried to the new Allen plant by a pipeline to be built that links up with the existing Texas Gas, Trunkline and A & R transmission line in Southeast Memphis. The pipeline would go south from the new plant and begin going east around the Robco Lake area, then run parallel to the Mississippi state line between the state line and Holmes Road.

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