By Russell Grantham
Georgia Power said it plans to close a dozen coal ash ponds at six power plants in the state within two years, but that it may take up to 10 years to close 16 other waste storage ponds.
One pond may not be closed for up to 14 years, the utility said.
After questioning last year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the safety of its coal ash lagoons, Georgia Power pledged last fall to eventually close all of its coal ash ponds and to release a schedule within several months.
Tuesday’s timetable from the electric utility, owned by Atlanta-based Southern Co., was part of that pledge.
Coal-ash disposal has become a red-hot issue in the wake of tighter federal environmental rules on how the potentially toxic material is handled.
Most privately operated disposal facilities in Georgia have stopped accepting coal ash. Some sites have leaked toxic metals into the soil and ground water.
“The good news is they have a plan,” said Liz Coyle, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch. But she questioned why Georgia Power needed up to a decade to close most of the lagoons, and called for the company to do health screenings and soil and water tests at communities near the lagoons in the meantime.
“There needs to be health screenings to make sure … members of the public know their health hasn’t been affected,” Coyle said.
Georgia Power said the dozen ponds slated for closure over the next two years are at six coal-fired plants: the McDonough plant, near Smyrna; Yates plant near Newnan; Branch plant near Eatonton; Hammond plant near Coosa; Kraft plant at Port Wentworth, near Savannah; and the McManus plant near Brunswick.
“Our primary focus throughout the closure process is maintaining a reliable generation fleet, while conducting the closure process in the most efficient way possible,” said Dr. Mark Berry, vice president of environmental affairs for Georgia Power, in a press release.
The lagoons Georgia Power to be closed over the next 2-14 years are at five plants: Bowen (Euharlee), McIntosh (Rincon), Mitchell (Albany), Scherer (Macon), and Wansley (Carrollton).
Since 2005, Georgia Power said, it has reduced its output of coal ash by about 60 percent as it has closed some coal-fired plants and shifted others to natural gas, a cleaner fuel.
Georgia Power recycles about half of its coal ash by selling it to producers of cinder blocks, Portland cement, concrete and other products.
The utility said it expects to spend about $1 billion over the next decade closing the lagoons. It will transfer ash to landfills or to other ponds set for later closure, then seal the lagoons with a cap. The company said it expects the volume of coal ash to decline and it will use recycling and dry storage methods in the future.
SOURCE: Atlanta Journal-Constitution