The Southern Environmental Law Center said Nov. 19 that in a groundbreaking settlement with conservation groups, Santee Cooper has agreed to remove 1.3 million tons of coal ash from the banks of the Waccamaw River in Conway, S.C.
The settlement resolves lawsuits filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Santee Cooper is a state-owned utility also known as the South Carolina Public Service Authority.
“This is an historic agreement that removes toxic coal ash from beside the Waccamaw River and from Conway,” said Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This settlement is good for Conway, for the River, and for Santee Cooper, and we thank Santee Cooper for reaching this agreement.”
This is the second settlement in South Carolina that requires a utility to remove coal ash stored beside a major river. In 2012, the center and the Catawba Riverkeeper settled a suit with South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) under which SCE&G agreed to remove 2.4 million tons of coal ash from the Wateree River in Richland County, three miles upstream of the Congaree National Park.
For decades, Santee Cooper has stored coal ash from its 170-MW Grainger station in unlined lagoons in wetlands beside the Waccamaw River. Santee Cooper closed the Grainger plant at the end of 2012 and had proposed a closure plan that would leave the coal ash beside the river indefinitely in a “vault,” the center said.
This proposal was opposed by local community members and the Conway City Council. Under the settlement, Santee Cooper must remove the ash from Conway and the Waccamaw River within seven to ten years. Santee Cooper will also remove one foot of soil from beneath the lagoons. If it stores the ash, Santee Cooper must put it in a Class 3 or higher landfill. Santee Cooper will withdraw the closure plan that includes the proposed vault and will propose a closure plan providing for removal of the ash. The settlement also contains requirements for groundwater testing and for action if the arsenic level in the groundwater does not decline, the center added.
Santee looks to recycle waste from three coal plant sites
Santee Cooper announced Nov. 19 that it plans to use all of the ash in ponds at its Jefferies, Winyah and Grainger stations for beneficial purposes. Santee Cooper has recycled fly ash, bottom ash and gypsum since the 1970s. Prior to the 2008 recession, it was using about 90% of those materials for beneficial purposes. Its gypsum recycling program actually brought American Gypsum and about 100 new jobs to Georgetown County in 2008, where that company makes wallboard. The ash is used by the cement and concrete block industries.
“As we continue working to close units at Jefferies and Grainger and consider long-term needs for Winyah, Santee Cooper is focused on solutions that are cost-effective and beneficial to the environment and the economy,” said R.M. Singletary, executive vice president of corporate services. “This is a triple win. It is cost-effective, which means it is responsive to our customers’ best interests. It utilizes innovative technology to help an important South Carolina industry be sustainable. And it is an EPA-approved use of ash.”
He added that this plan also addresses comments by residents, the City of Conway, and state regulators about long-term placement of the ash, and it does so in a manner that is responsible to customers. “It’s a solution that really does have something favorable for all involved,” said Singletary.
These plans will empty the ash ponds at the three stations over the next 10 to 15 years. Santee Cooper will provide excavation, loading and transportation of the ash to the locations where it will be used.