published Monday, October 10th, 2011

Coal collapse not new to TVA

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The Appalachian coal collapse is not new. Nor is its impact on TVA.

Tennessee has been the lowest or near-lowest coal-producing state in the East for about 15 years, according to statistical charts online on the National Mining Association's website.

And the Tennessee Valley Authority burns Appalachian coal at only two of its 11 coal-fired power plants.

"Our exposure to issues in that region have been virtually eliminated," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said recently.

An online database maintained by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, shows there are only 18 active mines in Tennessee. None of them is in Southeast Tennessee.

TVA officials said TVA already gets almost half of its coal to fire power plants from Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Those Western states are crucial to TVA's fossil plants and TVA's fuel supply team. About 50 percent of TVA's power comes from coal, and about 48 percent of TVA's coal, 17 million tons a year, comes from west of the Mississippi River.

Brooks said the John Sevier Fossil Plant near Rogersville, Tenn., still burns Appalachian coal, but that plant will retire two coal units and idle the other two coal units there in the next year as the utility switches the plant exclusively to natural gas.

The Bull Run Fossil Plant near Oak Ridge, Tenn., uses a blend that includes 50 percent Appalachian coal. But Brooks said the plant can burn 100 percent Colorado coal at any time as a substitute.

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration database, there have been 1,349 coal mines in Tennessee. All but 38 are now classified as "abandoned." Of those 38, only 18 are listed as "active."

One "temporarily idled" mine was listed in DeKalb County, Ala.

No coal mines are listed in Georgia.

As for any impact on jobs locally or nationally, the National Mining Association's website contains a trend chart showing that more coal is now produced nationally from fewer mines and with far fewer miners.

In 1923, there were 9,331 mines in the nation with 704,793 miners. They produced 564.6 million short tons of coal.

In 2010, there were 1,400 mines in the nation with 88,000 miners producing 1,085.3 million short tons of coal -- almost twice as much produced with just over a tenth of the miners.

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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