What Is Your Electric Utility Planning for its Coal Ash?

Guest Blog | December 22, 2016 | Coal, Energy Policy

Utilities in the Southeast are already starting to “close” toxic coal ash pits. We calculated how much ash will be excavated and how much will be left in mostly unlined pits posing a perpetual contamination risk to ground and surface water. In the Southeast:

  • 309.7 million tons of coal ash will be “closed” by 2030.
  • 252.2 million tons of that ash will be capped in place.
  • 57.5 million tons of ash will be excavated to lined landfills.
  • 12 billion gallons of wastewater will need to be eliminated, often through discharges into our waterways.

An additional 3.9 billion gallons of combined ash and wastewater will need to be excavated or capped in place (some utilities did not separate ash from wastewater in their reporting).

Below, we’ve broken down the totals for North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama and provided a summary of how agreements to excavate over 20 million tons of coal ash were achieved in South Carolina.

You can find this information and much more on Southeastcoalash.org, which we manage and update regularly. The site allows users to explore coal ash containment sites and potentially contaminated watersheds using our map and data features. Click here to learn more about using Southeastcoalash.org to discover if toxic coal ash is stored near you.

South Carolina

South Carolina’s three power utilities, South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G), Duke Energy, and Santee Cooper, agreed to remove all coal ash from unlined pits near waterways throughout the state, approximately 20 million tons in total. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) led the charge representing SACE, Riverkeepers, and other advocacy organizations in a series of lawsuits from 2012–2015.

South Carolina’s utilities are proving that excavation can be done relatively quickly and that it creates huge positive results for the environment. Santee Cooper, which SELC sued on behalf of SACE, Waccamaw Riverkeeper, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League in 2012, has already removed over one third of its ash. Since SCE&G started removing coal ash from the Wateree power plant site, arsenic at two wells beneath the ash pit decreased by over 90 percent. SELC and the Catawba Riverkeeper won cleanup at Wateree through a 2012 lawsuit.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, Duke is planning to excavate 35.7 million tons of coal ash and cap 71.4 million in place. Some of the ash may also be recycled. Advocates across the state organized thousands of North Carolinians to engage in regulatory processes and support legislation to achieve proper cleanup. Several organizations participated in lawsuits, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, that helped ensure coal ash was excavated from many of Duke’s coal ash impoundments in NC. SACE was part of the successful Dan River case.

PlantNumber of storage units with publicly available schedules for closureClosure Method(s)Estimated Closure Year(s)Ash Tons Currently in Closing PondsWastewater Gallons Currently in Closing PondsLined/Unlined
Asheville1Excavation20222,804,2509,776,000Unlined
Asheville1Excavation2017 291,303 – Unlined
Belews Creek1Cap in place202811,890,000959,960,000Unlined
Buck3Excavation 20296,410,00089,000,000 Unlined
Cape Fear5Excavation20285,760,000UnknownUnlined
Cliffside (Rogers)4Excavation2020353,000Unlined
 Cliffside (Rogers)2Cap in place 20266,091,000305,760,000Unlined
Dan River2Excavation20191,600,00021,509,999Unlined
 G.G. Allen2Cap in place2028 17,600,000 64,000,000Unlined
 H.F. Lee5Excavation 20285,830,00047,200,000Unlined
 L.V. Sutton2Excavation 2019 6,650,00065,390,000Unlined
 Marshall1Cap in place2029 16,700,000140,650,000Unlined
 Mayo3Cap in place20265,500,000481,670,000 Unlined
 Riverbend2Excavation20193,620,000Unlined
 Roxboro6Cap in place2028 13,622,000 122,824,000Unlined
 Weatherspoon1Excavation20242,450,000 – Unlined
TOTALS41107,171,5532,307,739,999

 

Florida

In Florida, over 98 million gallons of ash and wastewater will be removed from four pits at Tampa Electric Big Bend Station near Tampa. 3.6 million tons of ash will be capped in place at two other power plant sites owned by other utilities.

Thanks to a landmark settlement agreement in 2015, Gulf Power is cleaning up its coal ash at the retired Scholz Generating Plant near Sneads, Florida. SACE, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance, represented by Earthjustice, sued the utility under the federal Clean Water Act for allowing coal ash to leak from unlined pits into the Apalachicola River. Because of this settlement, Gulf Power is removing its coal ash from unlined pits at Scholz to an onsite landfill with an underground wall designed to prevent groundwater contamination. Gulf will monitor groundwater for signs of leakage.

PlantUtilityNumber of storage units with publicly available schedules for closureClosure Method(s)Estimated Closure Year(s)Ash Tons Currently in Closing PondsLast Known Combined Total of Ash and Wastewater GallonsWastewater Gallons Currently in Closing PondsLined/Unlined
ScholzGulf Power 3Excavation to dry storage area 2018Underground slurry wall
Big BendTampa Electric Company4Excavation201898,361,3513 Lined1 Unlined
Lansing SmithGulf Power1Cap in place20233,464,00042,212,571Unlined
Stanton Energy CenterOrlando Utilities1Cap in place2024145,200Lined
TOTALS93,609,20098,361,35142,212,571

 

Tennessee

If the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has its way, 13.4 million tons of coal ash will be capped in place in unlined storage facilities, some of which are inundated with groundwater.

In August 2015, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) released a Commissioner’s Order requiring TVA to investigate its coal ash storage facilities and identify and clean up any coal ash contamination problems it discovers. If TDEC holds TVA’s feet to the fire, this order could result in improved plans that clean up coal ash by excavating it to lined landfills away from Tennessee’s waterways.

PlantNumber of storage units with publicly available schedules for closureClosure Method(s)Estimated Closure Year(s)Ash Tons Currently in Closing PondsWastewater Gallons Currently in Closing PondsLined/Unlined
Allen1Cap in place20172,230,00028,970,548Unlined
 Bull Run2Cap in place 2017 & 20183,500,000 UnknownUnlined
John Sevier1Cap in place2017770,000UnknownUnlined
Kingston2Cap in place2017 & 2018700,000UnknownUnlined
Cumberland1Cap in place20246,210,166Unlined
TOTALS713,410,16628,970,548

 

Georgia

Georgia Power is planning to cap over 52.4 million tons of coal ash in place compared to only 1.8 million tons that it plans to excavate. At least 2.8 billion gallons of combined coal ash and wastewater is also slated for closure in place. The exact volume comparisons of water to ash were not reported by the utility. Georgia Power’s 29 coal ash pits statewide reportedly contain at least 86 million tons of coal ash, the figures above are drawn from publicly available documents we tracked down. Some of this discrepancy is undoubtedly due to how we converted cubic yards to tons (see Disclaimer and Notes on Methodology and Sources).

In Georgia, we and our allies advocated for a strong coal ash rule during the Environmental Protection Division’s recent rule-making process. Even with a state rule in place, Georgia Power is still planning to leave the majority of its ash in unlined pits on the banks of the state’s waterways.

PlantNumber of storage units with publicly available schedules for closureClosure MethodEstimated Closure YearAsh Tons Currently in Closing PondsLast Known Combined Total of Ash and Wastewater GallonsWastewater Gallons Currently in Closing PondsLined/Unlined
Bowen1Cap in place202221,170,69157,483,019Unlined
Branch5Excavate four pits, add to fifth pit, then close in placeUnknown1,641,542,388Unknown
Hammond1Excavation 2024367,100 –48,191,003Unlined
Hammond1Excavation2024360,00072,710,649Unlined
Hammond1ExcavationUnknown349,792,352Unlined
 Hammond1Cap in place  2018223,822,553 Unlined
 Hammond1Cap in place 2027 450,000 –Lined
Kraft1Excavation Unknown – 6,591,623 –Lined
 McDonough 1Cap in place,2017 – 177,737,143 – Unlined
McDonough1Consolidate with other closing pits2017UnknownUnlined
McDonough1Consolidate with other pits and cap in place2018209,245,090 Unlined
McDonough1Consolidate with other pits and cap in place2018603,498,389Unlined
McIntosh1Excavation202226,87117,454,595Unlined
McManus1Excavation2018UnknownUnlined
Mitchell3ExcavationUnknown370,727,140Unknown
Scherer1Cap in place203015,233,8222,951,415,136Unlined
Wansley1Cap in place202614,116,0132,118,166,242Unlined
Wasnley1Cap in place2024161,600Unknown
Yates1Excavation2018Unknown
Yates1Cap in place202156,815Unlined
Yates1Cap in place2021473,627Unlined
Yates1Excavation201759,986,282Unlined
Yates1Excavation20201,051,626137,520,883Unlined
Yates1Cap in place2021750,200Unlined
TOTALS3054,218,3653,642,942,9605,402,941,527

 

Alabama

Alabama Power plans to spend over $1 billion on coal ash handling and other environmental compliance at coal plants over the next five years. The utility plans to spend an additional $1.034 billion over a longer period to cap nearly 84 million tons of coal ash in place. With the addition of 28.2 million tons of ash from TVA’s two plants in northern Alabama, that’s 111 million tons of ash capped in unlined pits near Alabama’s rivers and waterways and 4 billion gallons of wastewater that will need to be eliminated.

Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) should take action immediately to require proper storage and disposal of coal ash to protect Alabamians’ health and the health of the environment.

PlantUtilityNumber of storage units with publicly available schedules for closureClosure MethodEstimated Closure YearAsh Tons Currently in Closing PondsLast Known Combined Total of Ash and Wastewater GallonsWastewater Gallons Currently in Closing PondsLined/Unlined
BarryApCo1Cap in place202715,760,000302,961,039Unlined
GadsdenApCo1Cap in place2018unknown215,647,263unknownUnlined
GastonApCo1Cap in place202523,650,000201,974,026Unlined
GorgasApCo1Cap in place202817,375,0003,502,902,857Unlined
Greene C.ApCo1Cap in place20248,700,00052,513,247Unlined
MillerApCo1Cap in place202917,695,000262,566,234Unlined
ColbertTVA1Cap in place20183,200,000 – 61,223,377Unlined
Widows CreekTVA3 Cap in place201825,000,000 –Unlined
TOTALS10  111,380,000 215,647,263 4,384,140,780

 

Background: Coal Ash Rules and Disposal Concerns

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently created federal coal ash and effluent limitation guideline rules, which set minimum federal requirements for storage and handling of coal ash and liquid discharges from coal ash waste, respectively.

In general, utilities are responding to these rules by shifting from wet to dry handling and storage of their ash. Many are choosing to reduce the amount of water in ash pits and place a cap on top (“cap in place”). This method has not been shown to reduce the risks of groundwater contamination and leaves ash dangerously close to rivers where it can be vulnerable to flooding. The best way to reduce the contamination risks of coal ash is to excavate the ash and move it to lined, dry landfills away from our waterways.

It’s also critical that permanent coal ash disposal options do not have an unfair impact on low-income residents and communities of color who have disproportionately and historically borne the brunt of pollution.

Disclaimer and Notes on Methodology and Sources:

Our goal is to provide the most accurate information possible to the public. We welcome corrections, new information, or suggestions submitted by utilities or other interested parties.

We limited our analysis to utility coal ash storage sites scheduled to close by 2030. Our ash and wastewater totals were calculated from information utilities were required to publish on publicly available websites under the federal coal ash rule. In the case of Duke Energy, ash totals were pulled from its “Duke Energy Ash Metrics Fleetwide” (PDF will download) report from September 2016. For ash pits at retired plants or ash pits where utilities have not provided recent data on ash and wastewater volumes, we reviewed EPA’s Information Request from 2009.

For ash and wastewater values, we apply the conversion factor: one cubic yard equals one ton. This average conversion factor was used by EPA in its CCR_RIA_Appendices (.pdf) for the final federal coal ash rule (See Att. 42, U.S. EPA, Appendices for Regulatory Impact Analysis for Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) Landfills and Surface Impoundments at Electric Utility).

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