(Reuters) - The chief executive of Tennessee Valley Authority said on Thursday the U.S.-owned power generator will keep cutting carbon emissions in future years after replacing much of its coal-fired fleet with plants run on natural gas, nuclear and renewables.
Since Bill Johnson took the reigns as CEO in 2013, TVA has spent $15 billion to modernize its generating fleet, reduced carbon emissions by retiring coal units, and cut debt by $3.5 billion, all while keeping consumer electric prices basically flat for six years.
“Carbon emissions are now down to 50 percent below 2005 levels. I predict CO2 will fall to 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2020/2021 and 70 percent by the end of the next decade,” Johnson told Reuters in an interview.
Johnson, who announced his retirement in November, said he will continue as CEO until the board finds a replacement.
The company continued to shut coal-fired units over the past two years despite efforts by U.S. President Donald Trump to prop up the coal industry by sweeping away former President Barack Obama’s climate change regulations, like the Clean Power Plan.
Johnson said TVA shut old coal plants for economic reasons.
“We have reduced carbon emissions simply by doing what is the most efficient and effective way to serve our customers,” Johnson said, noting the low cost of gas in recent years has made it more economic for TVA to build a new gas-fired power plant than refurbish a 60-year old coal unit.
Over Johnson’s tenure, TVA’s generating mix transitioned from 41 percent coal and 12 percent gas in 2012, the year before he became CEO, to 19 percent coal and 20 percent gas in 2018, according to TVA’s federal filings.
And TVA may not be done retiring coal plants.
In November, the company said it is seeking public comment on potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts of closing the 870-megawatt (MW) Bull Run coal plant in Tennessee and the last 971-MW coal unit at the Paradise plant in Kentucky.
One megawatt can power about 1,000 U.S. homes.
“We’re trying to figure out what is the lowest feasible cost to provide energy to people in the region,” Johnson said.
Separately, TVA Chief Financial Officer John Thomas told Reuters the company reduced debt by $3.5 billion over the past six years to $24.2 billion, its lowest in 25 years, and was on track to cut total debt to below $20 billion by 2023.
Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Chris Reese