Cumberland Fossil Plant

Cumberland Fossil Plant

On Friday, Houston-based fossil fuel broker Kinder Morgan filed for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, and on Wednesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority filed formal support of the application, stating, "TVA supports the proposed project as it is necessary to provide natural gas supply to TVA’s proposed retirement and replacement of the existing coal fired Cumberland Fossil Plant."

The expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure runs counter to the Biden administration's decarbonization goals and has drawn pushback from NES, clean energy advocates and Nashville Mayor John Cooper.

If granted, the certificate would provide the legal grounds for Kinder Morgan to exercise eminent domain, allowing the company to seize private property deemed necessary for its pipeline expansion. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently reviewing its pipeline approval policy and could take months to rule on the application.

Kinder Morgan is steadily moving along the process of building a high-pressure gas pipeline just west of Davidson County. The expansion would connect the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP), a vast network of natural gas transmission that runs from the Gulf Coast to New England. The new expansion would tie into the TGP a few miles from the Narrows of the Harpeth, a popular launch point for Nashville tubers.

A few hundred landowners stand in the way of the pipeline. Some have already signed options agreements for easements, which confer broad property rights to Kinder Morgan for building and maintaining the 32-mile connector. Some landowners have refused to sign contracts, hinting at the future use of eminent domain by the corporation. 

The TVA recently announced plans to retire obsolete coal-fired boilers at the Cumberland Fossil Plant. The federally owned corporation is nominally considering replacing them with a mix of gas and solar, though the TVA has already signed a precedent agreement with Kinder Morgan that includes a commitment to support the corporation through state, local and federal permitting processes.

Burning coal and natural gas to produce electricity has been identified as the primary driver of carbon emissions. The Biden administration signed an executive order in December aiming to decarbonize the country’s energy sector by 2050. This runs counter to the TVA’s continued consideration of fossil-fuel-based energy production and its support for expanding fossil fuel infrastructure.

Nashville politicians and activists have joined in rare agreement to oppose the TVA’s embrace of fossil fuels. Mayor John Cooper's office, Nashville Electric Service board members and clean energy advocates have all expressed disapproval of TVA generally and gas expansion specifically. The TVA has a functional monopoly on energy production and distribution in Tennessee. The federal agency was censured by Congress earlier this year for its policies, which, according to Congress, ignore climate change and fleece ratepayers. The TVA board currently has four vacant seats and five sitting members, including Nashville congressional candidate and former state House Speaker Beth Harwell. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has received five nominees from the Biden administration, so far refusing to move them along in the confirmation process.

"TVA is supportive of the project as it would be a likely source for natural gas, should TVA choose that option to replace capacity at Cumberland Fossil Plant," agency spokesperson Scott Brooks tells the Scene. "TVA has not made any decisions about the future of that plant nor replacement options, pending completion of the NEPA process later this year."

All documents related to the filing, including maps, can be found here.

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