Coal and Kentucky have a long complicated history together. It all began in 1820, when the first commercial mine in the United States opened near a small community called Paradise along the Green River in Muhlenberg County. The demand for coal increased as the decades went by for the War effort in the U.S. and Europe. America continued its growth after World War II as servicemen and women came home and started new lives and businesses. Coal was mined in and around Paradise to such a degree that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchased the community as health concerns from the coal ash grew for its citizens. In 1959, TVA built a coal-fired plant on the former site of the town and named it after the community. Folk legend John Prine immortalized the area in his 1971 hit song “Paradise”. The song spun the tale of how Peabody Coal Company hauled all of the coal and the town away. Today, TVA Paradise Fossil Plant still burns coal and produces electricity.
Kentucky and Coal
During the 1970s, Muhlenberg County was the top coal producing area in the world. That’s quite an amazing feat considering the size and population of Muhlenberg County. In the 1980s and 1990s, coal demands from Kentucky dwindled. Kentucky, which was once the top coal producing state dropped to third behind Wyoming and West Virginia.
Things are Changing
Nearly 200 years since the first coal mine opened, life is still centered on coal in Muhlenberg, but things are soon to change as the TVA Fossil Plant is undergoing some changes. Coal-fired electrical plants are undergoing some challenges and are changing to meet new demands and regulations.
The TVA Paradise Fossil Plant currently has 3 units used for burning coal and produces enough electricity to power 1 million homes. TVA will replace its two oldest units at the Paradise Fossil Plant with a combined-cycle natural gas plant. Unit 3 will still burn coal. The expected cost will be $1 billion and completed by the summer of 2017.
The long-term goal of TVA is harvest 20 percent of its power generation from natural gas, 20 percent from coal, 20 percent from hydro and other renewable sources, and 40 percent from nuclear power.
“TVA slashes coal burning at Paradise plant.” Courier-Journal, 2013, 20 Apr 2014
“”Coal vs. Natural Gas Quiz.” National Geographic, 23 Apr 2014