The skyline at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise Fossil Plant in Drakesboro is changing. The process of demolishing the massive power plant has begun.
Across the TVA power grid, coal-fired plants are being shuttered, and Paradise is one of seven slated for demolition. The goal is to leave the site a grassy field suitable for economic redevelopment. This process will take years, with site restoration completed by 2030, TVA officials said.
The process is called “D4” by those in the industry, which stands for decommissioning, deactivation, decontamination, and demolition. “If you look at Paradise as a big circle, the outer ring, we’re all the way to demolition. The closer ring in, we’re to decontamination. You get into the powerhouse, we’re still in decommission,” said Roger Waldrep, Vice President of Major Projects at TVA.
Waldrep said this project is the largest in scope of the five power plants currently being retired by TVA.
Completion of the natural gas-fired Paradise Combined Cycle Plant in 2018 allowed the process of shutting down the coal plant to begin. Decommissioning crews have begun to drain oils, fuels and solvents, salvage usable equipment, and remove residual ash and coal dust from structures in preparation for the massive clean-up effort.
Workers deactivate sources of energy from structures, making the plant “cold, dark and dry” so it is safe to demolish. Removal of hazardous materials and asbestos abatement are part of the decontamination process. Everything from lightbulbs and exit signs to major systems within the buildings must be removed or disconnected to make it safe for workers to begin demolition.
The first area for demolition is the coal yard, where crews are currently dismantling structures and conveyor systems used for handling coal. Cleaning up the coal yard will take about a year, until next summer, officials said.
“The next phase,” Waldrep said, “working our way closer to the powerhouse in the center, we’ll get all the outbuildings, small storage buildings, the old water plant and the cooling towers.” The three iconic cooling towers are estimated to be imploded in 2023.
As demolition crews move into the core of the plant, the final steps will be to dismantle the power blocks and powerhouse. This is the bulk of the demolition work, with tons of concrete and steel to be removed. Everything that can be recycled will be, and concrete will be crushed and used to backfill the site. This portion of the project will take several years.
Once demolition is complete, dirt work will begin and the land will be leveled and grass planted. The final result will be a “brownfield”, which officials define as reclamation that leaves the deepest set structures in the ground, as compared to a complete removal, called a “greenfield”.
Reducing liability is the reason TVA is going to such lengths to demolish the Paradise Fossil Plant. The process eliminates long term environmental liabilities, and site management costs.
Across the TVA power grid, the company is shifting to more renewable energy sources. Natural gas is a bridging technology, said Scott Brooks, a spokesperson for TVA. “We need something that can power up and power down quickly, when the sun’s not shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Natural gas lends itself to being very flexible.”
Brooks said TVA is working to make it attractive for developers to build utility-scale solar farms. It is more economical to allow developers to build and manage solar farms and sell the power to TVA. Wind energy is almost entirely purchased through contracts from wind farms in the midwest, Brooks said.
Over the last decade, coal has taken a smaller and smaller role in power production for the energy giant. It has dropped from about half to about 15 percent of the company’s energy sources, Brooks said. While roughly 25 coal-fired units still remain in TVA’s system, the age of the units at Paradise were a major factor in the decision to shutter them here.
“Especially when you consider Units One and Two didn’t have the emissions controls that would be required,” Brooks said. “That would be a major investment in a plant that is 50 to 60 years old.”
Even with the Paradise plant’s proximity to coal, here in Kentucky’s western coalfield, officials said coal burned at the plant had been coming from outside the region for a long time. Paradise was originally built as a “mine mouth” plant, where coal was dug from nearby and moved by conveyor into the plant. Eventually it came by truck, rail and even on the Green River by barge.
In 2021, TVA provides power to co-op companies that serve 10 million customers in seven states. The locations of their power plants ring the grid, and Paradise is the northernmost in their system.
Demolition of the Paradise Fossil Plant marks the end of an era. Built between the late 1950s through the late 1960s, in its heyday the plant employed more than 700 workers. Now, with the coal units offline and the more modern and efficient gas-fired plant producing power there, the numbers have dropped to about 35. The coal plant still employs about 20, for now.
As structures begin to disappear and the plant is demolished, the towering chimneys and stacks will be gone and the giant power plant that once stood out against the rural landscape will fade from memory, down by the Green River, where Paradise once lay.