Hundreds of Shoals area jobs gone as Colbert Steam plant closes

Retiree Tom Morrow (right) opens the breaker releasing Colbert from the power grid. Unit operator Dennis Skipworth (left) bends over unit 1 control.

Retiree Tom Morrow (right) opens the breaker releasing Colbert from the power grid. Unit operator Dennis Skipworth (left) bends over unit 1 control.

TVA’s Colbert Fossil Plant ended 61 years of electricity generation Wednesday evening, March 23, as unit 1—the last of its five units—emptied its coal bunker and separated from the power grid.

TVA unit operator Dennis Skipworth watched as the megawatt output decreased for the right moment to turn the controls over to TVA retiree Tom Morrow. Morrow would have the honor of opening the electrical breaker, releasing the facility from the power grid.

The unit 1 control room was hushed during the final minutes of generation as employees watched intently and Morrow waited for the final command.

Morrow retired from TVA as a shift supervisor at Colbert in 1992 after 41 years of service. He began his career at the now demolished Wilson Steam Plant, before moving to Watts Bar Steam Plant and Widows Creek. He arrived at Colbert in January 1956, starting a 36-year stint there that ended upon his retirement.

For over six decades Colbert has serviced to the people of the Tennessee Valley by providing reliable and low-cost power. Morrow expressed to the employees that it is a privilege to release the plant from the grid.

Once the unit was offline, acting plant manager Mark Albright praised his team for their commitment to safety and providing reliable electricity: “I applaud all of you for your efforts. You came to work every day with the attitude to do your very best work for our customers. The Colbert family stayed focused on safety and caring for each other throughout this entire journey. Definitely, a job well done!”

Kenny Mullinax, vice president of Western and Transitional Coal, echoed those sentiments.

“I am extremely proud of Mark and the absolutely amazing Colbert employees,” Mullinax said. “You never lost focus throughout this challenging period as you brought your great plant to a graceful closure. The plan continued to run very reliably, remained spotless and the Colbert family never stopped caring about each other. The legacy you built will remain in our hearts forever.

“Well done. Colbert team, well done,” Mullinax concluded.

TVA announced more than a year ago that Colbert would cease operation by April 15, 2016, which is the date new mercury and air toxins regulations go into effect. Colbert’s 154 core employees were offered transfers to other positions in the same job classification at other TVA fossil plants. Employees should begin moving to those positions in the coming months. There is no transfer option for the hundreds of contract employees that served the plant and were not employed by TVA.

“After careful analysis, TVA we determined that it more cost effective to transition the facility to its next chapter in TVA history than to install costly pollution controls,” said Mullinax.

Colbert Fossil Plant had five generators, with a combined net generating capacity of 1,204 megawatts. Construction began in October 1951. Commercial operation began on Jan. 18, 1955.

Colbert was the last of TVA’s two coal-fired plants in Alabama. Widows Creek, near Scottsboro, Ala., shut down in September 2015, after 63 years of service.

TVA confirmed that customers are not affected by the closing, because the Colbert Combustion Turbine Plant continues to generate electricity and there is sufficient capacity within the TVA system to provide power to its 9 million customers.


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