A Muhlenberg County member of the state House of Representatives has asked Tennessee Valley Authority to reconsider its plan to shut down two of the three coal-fired power generating units at Paradise Fossil Plant near Drakesboro.

Rep. Brent Yonts, a Greenville Democrat, sent a letter to TVA CEO William D. Johnson and members of the TVA board last week. In the letter, Yonts argues the two coal-fired units should be kept operational "on a reduced capacity basis" as a back-up to the plant's natural gas generator, which is under construction.

TVA board members voted on November 2013 to shut down the two coal plants and build a natural gas plant at Paradise. A third coal-fired unit will remain in operation.

"What I believe has not been adequately address by TVA is the impact not only on this region, but also on the economy of the South if the gas supply line to Paradise is disrupted by an earthquake from the New Madrid Fault, or terrorism," Yonts wrote.

"If this were to happen, the electric supply would be impaired or possibly eliminated to households and businesses in the Western and Central Kentucky areas. This would also have a negative ripple effect on multiple economies, including the South, for an unknown period of time ..."

In an interview, Yonts said closing the two coal units will affect coal jobs and "multiple other jobs," but his letter was concerned with maintaining power if the natural gas line to Paradise was disrupted.

The New Madrid fault "is 30 years overdue for eruption," Yonts said.

Kentucky National Guard officials have told legislators a major New Madrid earthquake would likely be in the magnitude of a 6 or 7 on the earthquake intensity scale.

"What I'm trying to get TVA to understand ... is the requirement for redundancy" at the Paradise plant, Yonts said. "... An ice storm has disrupted recently the supply of energy. If you have an earthquake that disrupts (the natural gas) supply, and all you have left is one (coal) unit, I don't think they have the redundancy in the system to maintain their obligation.

"I think there's an unspoken desire to retain that capacity" at the Paradise plant, Yonts said. "I hope they will retain the units in place" and will spend the necessary funds to install mercury and fine particular matter controls on the units, Yonts said.

Scott Brooks, a spokesman for TVA public relations, said the federal agency's plan to back up the Paradise plant is to purchase power off the grid from other places, such as nuclear units in the TVA system.

"We have contingency plans for all of our generation," Brooks said. The Paradise plant also will keep the third coal unit in full operation "as often as we can, based on demand," Brooks said. But the two units scheduled to be shut down are "not meant to be supplemental power," Brooks said.

"If there's an issue with the gas units, there's still the coal unit that will continue operating" at Paradise, he said.

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