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TVA pilots solar on a coal ash site, a US first, but there’s still a long way to go

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) – the largest utility in the United States – will launch a first-of-its-kind pilot program to determine whether closed coal ash storage sites can host utility-scale solar.

Solar on coal ash sites

Pending environmental reviews and regulatory approval, the $216 million pilot project would explore repurposing a capped 300-acre coal ash storage pit into a 100 megawatt (MW) solar farm at the Shawnee Fossil Plant, around 10 miles northwest of Paducah, Kentucky.

The solar farm, which TVA officials say should be operational within two years, will connect to the transmission infrastructure already in place at the 1,696-acre coal plant.

According to the News & Observer:

Officials say the model could ultimately be used at other closed Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash sites, with a capacity of 1,000 MW combined if they were to pursue that expansion.

TVA is a federally owned utility corporation that provides electricity for business customers and local power distributors that serve nearly 10 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. TVA receives no taxpayer funding, deriving virtually all of its revenues from electricity sales. It also manages nearly 300,000 acres of land that could potentially be tapped to host solar.

Electrek’s Take

TVA’s latest solar announcement is welcome. The company has less ambitious emissions reduction goals than the Biden administration’s aim for electricity to be net zero by 2030. TVA’s plan is “70% reduction of carbon by 2030; developing a path to an approximate 80% reduction by 2035; and… net-zero by 2050.”

The utility does have plans to add 10,000 MW of solar by 2035, and it’s also developing small module nuclear reactors. It issued a 5,000-MW clean energy request for proposals in July.

But the TVA is also considering switching two aging coal plants in Tennessee to natural gas, when it ought to use the sites to host renewables instead, as it plans to do with Shawnee’s coal ash site. As a federally owned corporation, as we’ve said before, TVA can and should do better.

Read more: Watch the TVA blow up its oldest coal-fired plant (and they want to replace it with natural gas)

Photo: Shawnee Fossil Plant/TVA

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.