Georgia Power will shut down and stop receiving coal ash at all 29 of its coal ash ponds within the next three years.

The announcement on June 13 is the latest in a string of similar moves from coal plant–owning utilities across the nation in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) coal ash disposal rule.

The measure, which could cost up to $2 billion dollars, will entail completely removing ash from 16 ponds located adjacent to lakes or rivers where “advanced engineering methods, such as the installation of impermeable concrete barriers designed to isolate the closed pond from groundwater, may not be feasible,” the Southern Co. subsidiary said.

That ash will either be relocated to a permitted landfill, consolidated with other closing ash ponds, or recycled for beneficial use. About 50% of Georgia Power’s coal ash is recycled, it noted.

The remaining 13 coal ash ponds will be closed in place using “advanced engineering methods,” the company said.

“As part of our strategy, we are also leveraging advanced technologies and engineering practices to ensure additional measures are in place that are protective of groundwater,” said Dr. Mark Berry, vice president of environmental affairs for Georgia Power.

Georgia Power’s 29 coal ash ponds are located around 11 coal plants in Georgia: Plant Bowen, Plant Branch, Plant Hammond, Plant Kraft, Plant McDonough, Plant McIntosh, Plant McManus, Plant Mitchell, Plant Scherer, Plant Wansley, and Plant Yates.

The company first indicated it would shutter the ponds in September 2015 to comply with the EPA’s December 2014–finalized rule and guidelines governing effluent limitations. Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power had at the time said the company was developing a pond-closure timeline that would meet all federal rules in an economical way.

The EPA’s final rule regulating coal combustion residuals (CCRs) from coal power plants calls for the closure of surface impoundments and landfills that fail to meet engineering and structural standards, and regular inspections of the structural safety of surface impoundments. The effluent guidelines rule, which establishes standards to reduce discharges of pollutants from power plants to U.S. waters, was finalized on September 30, 2015.

The rules were promulgated in response to the December 2008 coal ash spill—one of the largest in history—at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston power plant. Calls for regulatory action shifted pitch again after the Duke Energy Dan River spill on February 2, 2014.

Duke Energy has since 2014 moved to close all 32 of its coal ash ponds in North Carolina. In April 2015, Dominion also announced it would close all of its ash ponds in Virginia, and in July 2015, South Carolina utilities agreed to remove coal ash from unlined pits throughout the state.

Last week, meanwhile, the TVA released a final environmental impact statement that supports a closure-in-place plan over removal to eliminate all wet CCR storage at its coal plants. The company in 2009 outlined plans to close all of its coal ash impoundments, but at least 13 are still actively receiving CCR.

For all that has happened on the coal ash front since the Kingston disaster, see “A Brief History of U.S. Coal Ash Since the Kingston Spill.”

 

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)