Kentucky utilities outline plans to close out coal waste disposal areas

Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric, both of which are subsidiaries of PPL Corp. (NYSE: PPL), on Jan. 11 separately announced plans to close coal waste disposal areas at various power plant sites.

Kentucky Utilities said that it plans to cap and close its remaining coal ash ponds at the E.W. Brown and Ghent Generating Stations and at the now-retired Green River, Pineville and Tyrone coal-fired plants. The details of the plans will be laid out in the utility’s environmental compliance plan, which will be submitted to the Kentucky Public Service Commission on Jan. 29.

The $678 million plan is necessary to meet the environmental regulations required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule (CCR) that became effective late last year. The EPA CCR Rule established new requirements for the disposal of the byproducts left over after coal is safely burned to make electricity.

In order to make these operational changes, KU will seek Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity from the KPSC to begin construction projects, and receive approval of the environmental compliance plan. The projects, which ensure that KU meets the CCR and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rules, include additional mercury control systems, ash pond closures, construction of process-water facilities and the second phase of the Brown landfill.

The EPA determined that coal combustion residuals are non-hazardous materials and can continue to be beneficially used to make certain authorized products and for specific uses. The CCR Rule also established new standards that are expected to require over the next three years commencing (or completing in some cases) the closure of ash ponds and some other on-site wet storage sites that contain coal byproducts. KU expects to begin these latest investments in the environmental improvements in 2016 and continue through 2023.

“We have managed our coal combustion residuals in a safe and compliant manner for decades; however, as regulations change, so must our operations,” said Paul W. Thompson, chief operating officer. “We extensively studied our compliance options under the new rule and determined the lowest reasonable cost option would mean capping and closing our existing ash ponds while continuing to beneficially use byproducts in a safe and practical manner that continues to meet the new requirements.”

For many years, KU beneficially reused as much of the coal byproducts produced by the facilities as economically reasonable given the demand for such applications. For example, in the last year more than 25% of the byproducts produced at the Ghent and Trimble stations were beneficially reused offsite to create products such as concrete, wallboard and fertilizers.

Louisville Gas and Electric said Jan. 11 that it plans to cap and close its remaining coal ash ponds located at the Mill Creek and Trimble County Generating Stations. The details will be laid out in the utility’s environmental compliance plan, which will be submitted to the KPSC on Jan. 29. The $316 million plan is necessary to meet EPA’s CCR Rule.

In order to make these necessary operational changes, LG&E will seek Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity from the KPSC to begin construction projects, and receive approval of the environmental compliance plan. Under the plan, LG&E will request approval for recovery of the costs to cap and close the ash ponds and build a process-water facility at the Mill Creek and Trimble County stations to meet the CCR Rule and additional mercury control systems to meet the MATS rule. LG&E expects the projects to cost $311 million to meet the CCR Rule and $5 million for the MATS rule.

LG&E’s Mill Creek Station is already operating a dry special waste landfill that meets the new requirements, providing for seamless onsite operations well into the future. The utility also is in the final permitting stages to construct a similar dry special waste landfill at the Trimble County Station.

For many years, both the Mill Creek and Trimble County stations have beneficially reused as much of their coal byproducts as economically reasonable. For example, in the last year more than 25% of the byproducts produced at Mill Creek and Trimble County have been beneficially reutilized off site. Mill Creek reuses about 50% of the gypsum produced at the plant during the coal-burning process. An onsite facility recycles the gypsum into pelletized fertilizer sold to agricultural firms. Trimble County also sells its gypsum, fly ash and other byproducts for beneficial reuse.

The ash pond cap and closure projects will begin later this year. The ponds at Mill Creek are expected to be closed by 2020, and those at Trimble County are expected to be closed by 2023.

LG&E and Kentucky Utilities have been moving toward dry storage facilities for a number of years. In addition to Mill Creek, the Ghent Station also already uses dry storage facilities, and the utilities are well underway to capping and closing the former dry special waste landfill and ash pond located at the now-retired Cane Run coal-fired plant. Dry storage facilities at Brown, expected to be in service in 2016, and Trimble County stations also have been approved by the KPSC.

LG&E serves 321,000 natural gas and 400,000 electric customers in Louisville and 16 surrounding counties. KU serves 543,000 customers in 77 Kentucky counties and five counties in Virginia.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.