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Coal ash: Georgia mulls first request for permanent disposal in unlined basins

By David Pendered

Georgia may create a statewide precedent to manage coal ash by leaving it permanently in an unlined basin under a cap made of plastic that’s covered with grass and legumes.

Georgia is gathering public comments through Sept. 10 regarding Georgia Power’s proposal to store coal ash in an unlined basin at Plant Hammond, near Rome. File/Credit: Hunter Nichols via SELC

Georgia Power has submitted this application for a 25-acre site filled with 1.1 million cubic yards of ash at Plant Hammond, near Rome. A virtual public meeting is set for Tuesday. If approved at some point in the future, the permit would allow Georgia’s first cap-in-place surface impoundment of coal combustion residuals. An alternative method is to excavate coal ash from existing pits and deposit it in a basin that’s lined, in hopes of preventing leakage.

Investors in Georgia Power’s parent, the Southern Co., were notified of the company’s ongoing and unpredictable expenses related to coal ash in the annual financial report Southern filed with the SEC, in February. Ratepayers are to be asked to pay some or all the costs, according to the filing.

Georgia Power’s proposal regarding Ash Pond 3 at Plant Hammond, in the Coosa community outside of Rome, has made manifest years of debate in Georgia over what’s to become of the residue of power generation that was created before its degree of toxicity was widely known.

Georgia lawmakers have talked at length about strengthening regulations of coal ash disposal. Two such bills are pending deliberation in the 2022 session – one by GOP lawmakers (House Bill 647) and one by Democrats (Senate Bill 230).

Georgia Power intends to dispose of coal ash in an unlined basin at Plant McDonough-Atkinson, near Smyrna. File/Credit: Nancy Pierce, Flight by SouthWings, via SELC

However, before lawmakers have a chance to act on these bills or others, Georgia Power is scheduled to have applications for coal ash closure plans at four facilities under review by the Environmental Division of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources.

The first application, for Plant Hammond, is the subject of a virtual public meeting Tuesday, at 6 p.m. Public comments are being accepted no later than 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 10. Details of the proposal and guidance on submitting comments are available here.

Georgia Power’s description of its coal ash compliance program at Plant Hammond is available here. In addition, the company intends to install a 2.8 MW solar power facility atop the closed ash pond, according to an email sent Monday by Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft. The solar facility has been authorized by the Georgia Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulator.

Kraft observed of the cap-in-place application:

  • “Georgia Power’s ash pond closure plans fully comply with the federal Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule, as well as the more stringent requirements of Georgia’s state CCR rule….
  • “Each closure design is certified by a team of independent, professional engineers and geologists and demonstrates how the specific closure design meets the performance standards established in the Federal and State CCR Rules Regardless of the method used, closure by removal or closure in place, we’re going to be sure that our closure plans are protective of the environment and the communities we serve.”

This is the list of grass and legumes planted, and fertilized, atop the plastic cap installed on the ash basin at Plant Hammond. Credit: Georgia Power via EPD

Georgia Power dated the closure plan for Plant Hammond in May, the month after the Georgia Legislature completed its 2021 session without passing any coal ash legislation.

Kraft provided this timeline of Georgia Power’s application for the cap-in-place permit and its ensuing efforts to comply with EPD’s requirements:

  • “Georgia Power applied for a state CCR permit in late 2018. During the course of EPD’s review, Georgia Power responded to multiple rounds of comments and data requests. Georgia Power included the following at EPD’s request: modified the groundwater monitoring network and included surface water monitoring, revised permit documents, closure drawings and engineering calculations, and other supplemental information related to compliance with the Federal and State CCR Rules.
  • “The company received the draft closure permit from Georgia EPD on July 12, 2021. After receiving the final permit, the company will seek EPD approval of the company’s closure certification report, at which time, the site would enter post-closure care, including groundwater monitoring, maintenance, and reporting for at least 30 years.”
Duke, coal ash, lined

An alternative method of storing coal ash is to place it in a lined basin. This is the model Senate Democrats have proposed requiring lined basins similar to this one used in North Carolina: A bottom layer, lined with 2 feet of compacted clay or similar material, a synthetic barrier, and a drainage layer to collect water leaching through the ash; and a top layer, lined with a synthetic barrier, drainage layer, topsoil layer, and vegetation layer. File/Credit: Duke Energy

Investors in Southern Co., Georgia Power’s parent, were notified in February that the financial impact of coal ash management is uncertain and contingent on future requirements. Georgia lawmakers are considering such requirements. Southern’s mandatory annual report for 2021, which was filed Feb. 18 with the SEC, states:

  • “The Southern Company system’s ultimate environmental compliance strategy and future environmental expenditures will depend on various factors, such as state adoption and implementation of requirements….”

Ratepayers can expect the utility to try to pass costs to consumers, the filing states:

  • “Environmental compliance spending over the next several years may differ materially from the amounts estimated and could adversely affect the Registrants if such costs cannot continue to be recovered on a timely basis.”

Georgia Power now has applications scheduled for a total of eight ponds at five facilities. Consideration of seven of these basins is to be underway by the time the 2022 legislative session gets into full swing. Georgia Power’s final application is slated for May 2022.

At Plant Hammond, Ash Pond 3 covers about 25 acres and contains 1.1 million cubic yards of coal ash, according to the closure plan. Stormwater was removed during the closure process, pumped to Ash Pond 1 and discharged through a permitted outfall.

The final cover for the basin consists of a liner made of a material used in plastic bottles, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), which is covered by a geocomposite drainage material, followed by a soil cover at least 18 inches deep, and a 6-inch layer of grasses and legumes.

Plant Hammond 2

Another view of Plant Hammond, near Rome. File/Credit: Hunter Nichols, via SELC

Groundwater monitoring is to be conducted at least every 5 years; records are to be kept on site. The draft permit requires Georgia Power, or its successor, to conduct “post-closure care” for 30 years.

Applications for cap-in-place ash basins are pending at the following Georgia Power plants and according to the following schedule:

  • Plant Hammond, Ash Pond 3, near Rome: posted July 12;
  • Plant Wansley, Ash Pond 1, near Carrollton: November;
  • Plant McDonough-Atkinson, Ash Pond 1, near Smyrna: December
  • Plant McDonough-Atkinson, Ash Ponds 2, 3 and 4, near Smyrna: December/January 2022;
  • Plant Scherer, Ash Pond 1, January 2022, near Juliettte;
  • Plant Yates, Combined ponds, May 2022, near Newnan.

Note to readers: A virtual public meeting on Georgia Power’s application to cap in place Ash Pond 3 at Plant Hammond, in the Coosa community near Rome, is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. EPD is accepting comments through 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 10. Details on how to watch the meeting and submit a comment are available here.

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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1 Comment

  1. Dana Blankenhorn August 10, 2021 9:46 am

    This looks like an environmental disaster waiting to happen. It’s written as a Georgia Power press release.Report

    Reply

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