Trump Backs Kentucky Power Plant Burning Coal From Donor Murray

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump is lobbying a federally owned entity to continue operating a Kentucky coal-fired power plant that gets its fuel from a longtime supporter of the president.

Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin are all urging the Tennessee Valley Authority not to shut the Bluegrass State’s aging Paradise Fossil Plant unit 3 ahead of a TVA board meeting Thursday. The government-owned generator has been mulling whether to close the facility because of flat power demand and rising costs.

Paradise 3 gets the bulk of its coal from Kentucky mines operated by Murray Energy, according to U.S. Energy Department data. Chief Executive Officer Robert Murray is a Trump supporter and his company donated $1 million to a super-political action committee backing Trump’s agenda in the 2018 election cycle. Murray has also pushed Trump administration officials to support coal power plants operated by his customers.

Trump weighed in on the issue Monday. TVA “should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!” Trump said in a tweet. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, also commented on Twitter: “Coal has helped fuel our country’s greatness & it needs to be part of our energy future.”

Trump has been very vocal about wanting to keep coal plants operating. But while TVA is a federal government agency rather than an investor-owned utility, he and the other officials may find that their ability to sway the board is limited. That’s because TVA doesn’t receive any taxpayer money and has to make its revenue through sales of electricity, just like a private generator. TVA issued a notice Monday saying that closing the site was its preferred option.

“We certainly will listen to the governor. We certainly will listen to the president,” said Jim Hopson, a public information officer with TVA. But their opinions will be weighed alongside other voices, including people who are urging that the facility be shuttered, he said. “We have to look at what’s in the best interest of everyone.”

During an open-comment period, local residents sent more than 1,650 letters opposing the plant closure, citing worries about what it would do to the county’s economy. Bevin called on TVA to keep the plant operating and workers and residents held a rally over the weekend, according to a story posted on local news station WBKO’s website.

Paradise 3 received about 900,000 tons of coal in 2017 from two Murray mines, according to the Energy Information Administration. TVA is also considering shutting the 881-megawatt Bull Run coal-fired power plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

A Murray spokesman confirmed that the company supplies coal to Paradise 3 but didn’t respond to questions about the president’s call for TVA to keep the facility in operation.

TVA shut two of the units at its Paradise power plant in Muhlenberg County in 2017, after 54 years of operation, replacing them with natural gas fired generation. The third, with a capacity of 1,150 megawatts, began operating in 1970, according to its website. TVA issued a notice Monday stating that closing Unit 3 was its preferred alternative. When TVA has decided in the past to shutter power facilities, it has typically taken one to three years.

Kentucky was the fifth-largest U.S. coal-producing state in 2017, the last year for which annual government data are available. The state is second only to Pennsylvania in its number of coal mines. Kentucky also depends on coal for 79 percent of its power.

The TVA, which serves 10 million people in seven southeastern states, is the largest government-owned power company. It was formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help electrify rural parts of the South during the Great Depression.

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