Environment

Shutting down a Kentucky coal-fired power plant is the right decision, the new head of the Tennessee Valley Authority said Friday. President Donald Trump and the U.S. Senate majority leader who hails from Kentucky had previously criticized the move.

Jeff Lyash took over as president and CEO of the nation’s largest public utility on Monday. In an interview with The Associated Press, Lyash said the Paradise Fossil Plant is at the end of its life and no longer cost effective to operate.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had joined Trump in the plea to keep Paradise up and running, but TVA’s board still voted days later in February to retire the remaining coal-fired unit there by December 2020. The board also voted to close the Bull Run Fossil Plant near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, by December 2023.

“These coal plants were ‘the’ technology when they were built,” Lyash said Friday.

But he added that technology has changed along with customer demands.

“And that’s what leads to decisions like retirements on Paradise and Bull Run. For me it has little to do with a ‘war on coal’ or anything else. It has to do with deciding what’s best for the Tennessee Valley,” he said. And as for Trump, Lyash said with a laugh, “One of my objectives is to never be on either end, good or bad, of a presidential tweet.”

Lyash did not signal any big changes for the utility with the change in leadership. Outgoing CEO Bill Johnson is taking over at San Francisco-based PG&E later this month.

Asked about groundwater pollution from TVA’s coal ash dumps, Lyash said monitoring wells have shown the pollution is “fairly contained around the ash sites.”

At the shuttered Allen coal plant in Memphis, high levels of arsenic and other toxins were found in monitoring wells in 2017, spurring fears that an aquifer that supplies Memphis’ drinking water could become tainted.

Testing has since deemed the public water supply unaffected, but a report last spring by the utility showed a connection between the shallow aquifer where toxins were found and the deeper Memphis Sand Aquifer that provides the city’s drinking water.

Lyash said the utility is going through the permitting process in order to move the ash offsite to a “lined, permitted facility.”

As for ash dumps at other facilities, Lyash said, “TVA is going to do the right thing.” He didn’t elaborate other than to say the utility will work with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to determine the right course of action.

TVA provides power to more than 10 million people in parts of seven Southern states.