Despite its best efforts to keep the world hooked, the world is slowly – but surely – turning away from fossil fuel industry and its products. That includes several energy generation companies across the nation, including one in the heart of coal country.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Although the technology that provided electrical power to urban centers had been around since the late 19th Century, by 1933 it had still not reached most of rural America – since power companies found it “unprofitable.” The TVA was an example of government rising to the occasion when the “free market” couldn’t be bothered. Over the next few decades, the federal government built an extensive electric infrastructure supplying the entire Appalachian region from Virginia to Georgia and Alabama. Since coal was readily available in the area, many of the power plants were coal-fired.

That is starting to change. Between market forces and increasing pressure from the EPA and other government agencies, the TVA is having to accelerate its plans to shut down its coal-fired plants and either retrofit them for natural gas or construct new facilities. It’s not all about regulation, although politicians from coal-producing areas would have us believe it’s all about big government and tree-hugging environmentalists. It’s really about enlightened self-interest. Natural gas is more abundant and easier to obtain, making it less expensive. It is also cleaner, eliminating the need for expensive emissions technology and maintenance. At the same time, the cost of other renewable sources continues to fall.

Making the switch away from coal will be better for the health of the environment and people alike – a cost that bean counters at coal-fired utilities don’t usually consider.

The TVA and other utility companies across the US have a long way to go. Many coal-fired plants will continue in operation. However, the TVA is on track to shut down nearly 5000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity over the next thirty-five years.

And there isn’t much that the coal industry can do about it.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.