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TVA delays scrubber at Colbert plant

By Duncan Mansfield
Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Valley Authority has deferred construction of pollution control scrubbers for an Alabama coal-fired power plant and will take a $17 million writedown for engineering work done there.

The decision comes as the nation's largest public utility adjusts its multibillion-dollar strategy for cutting smokestack emissions against the threat of potentially tougher environmental requirements.

TVA officials insist scrubber plans for the Colbert plant in Tuscumbia aren't dead.

"They are still going to build a scrubber at Colbert," TVA spokesman John Moulton said of the 1,350-megawatt power station. "But it is going to be delayed until 2014."

Last on schedule

In 2002, TVA announced a $1.5 billion program to slash sulfur dioxide emissions that cause haze and acid rain. Five power plants would get scrubbers by the end of the decade. Colbert was the last on the schedule.

Now Colbert has been pushed back four years behind another plant, the John Sevier station in Rogersville, Tenn. TVA announced last week that work on Sevier's $350 million scrubber would begin in 2008 and be completed by 2012.

The Sevier station is the last of three TVA fossil plants near the pollution-prone Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border without a scrubber under construction. Two are being built at TVA's Kingston, Tenn., plant and one is under construction at its Bull Run station near Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The state of North Carolina has sued Knoxville-based TVA over air pollution believed to come from the agency's coal-fired power plants on the other side of the Smokies.

"The lawsuit didn't influence our decision," Moulton said. "Our position on this is that we will continue to look at our strategy and see where we are going to get the most reductions (in pollution). And John Sevier was the most cost-effective path."

The scrubber for John Sevier will handle all of its four boilers, which together generate 712 megawatts. The Colbert scrubber project only would be for the largest of the plant's five boilers — the 473-megawatt Unit 5.

Environmental groups have cited modifications TVA made to Colbert Unit 5 in a 2002 federal lawsuit now on appeal. TVA has won in the lower courts, but "if the decision is reversed on appeal, there is a reasonable possibility that TVA will be ordered to install additional controls on Colbert Unit 5," TVA wrote in its first-quarter financial statement.

$17 million writedown

That statement, released Feb. 15, also revealed the agency has decided to take the $17 million writedown against $51 million in profits for the quarter because of the "uncertainty of future benefit that would be realized from the work" done on the Colbert scrubber project.

Moulton said the $17 million wasn't wasted and the delay "does not negate the value of the engineering performed to date."

Colbert's situation is eased somewhat by other technologies in place at the plant, including burning low-sulfur coal, that have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions 50 percent over the last decade, Moulton said.

TVA operates 11 coal-fired power plants in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. It has spent $4.6 billion on pollution controls since 1977 and plans to spend $1.2 billion more. It has seven scrubbers on its largest generating units and will add three more by 2010.

To date, TVA's sulfur dioxide emissions are down 80 percent since 1977 and smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions during summer ozone season are down 81 percent since 1995.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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