Dominion, Virginia county reach agreement on ash pond issue

Dominion (NYSE:D) and Prince William County, Virginia, have reached a settlement agreement on releasing treated water from coal ash ponds at the company’s Possum Point fossil power station.

In a March 8 news release, Dominion Virginia Power said that the agreement should further protect aquatic life, human health and recreational activities on Quantico Creek and the Potomac River. 

The agreement means that Prince William County will withdraw its appeal of a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).  The agreement and DEQ’s permit allow Dominion to safely and in an environmentally sound manner treat, discharge and monitor pond water as part of a plan to permanently close five ash ponds at Possum Point located in Dumfries.

“After extensive dialogue, we as a Board are comfortable that the dewatering of the ponds will be done in a way that provides an additional level of protection, and that addresses concerns raised by our residents,” said Corey Stewart, Chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. 

Dominion agrees with the Prince William Board of County Supervisor’s findings that the health and safety of its citizens, the environment, and aquatic life are fully protected.

Under the agreement, Dominion agrees to go beyond federal and state requirements and add enhanced protections in operating state-of-the-art treatment equipment already planned for the project and to provide additional water treatment if monitoring shows elevated levels of certain constituents.

“Dominion will always be committed to keeping Quantico Creek and the Potomac safe for fishing, boating, swimming and all the activities we Virginians love to do.  We look forward to moving ahead with this important environmental project,” said Pam Faggert, chief environmental officer for Dominion.  “The county has helped us create a plan that reflects Dominion’s and the County’s shared commitment to maintain the quality of these two waterways.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Coal Combustion Residual Rules in the spring of 2015 calling for the closure of ash ponds across the country in the wake of two major ash spills in recent years in Tennessee and North Carolina.  The intent of the rules is to remove the risk of ash spills in the nation’s rivers.  The rules encourage power companies to eliminate the risk of further spills by closing their ash ponds by the spring of 2018.

Ash ponds were used across the country to store the ash left over from burning coal to produce electricity. Dominion has stepped up as a leader in its efforts to close 11 ash ponds at four power stations across the state.

As part of closing the ash ponds at Possum Point, Dominion must first remove water that has accumulated in the ponds. The water removal process involves pumping water from four ponds into a fifth pond that has a clay liner.  Under the terms of the stringent wastewater discharge permit issued by DEQ and the State Water Control Board, Dominion must construct a wastewater treatment facility at the Possum Point.

The facility will clean the water to levels that are considerably better than those required by Virginia’s environmental laws and will be enforced through the permit issued by DEQ.  The treated water will be tested before release to ensure that it is much cleaner than required by the permit.

“We are proud that Dominion has shown that we are committed to protecting the environment,” Faggert said.  “We have been in the forefront in reducing power station emissions that cause smog and acid rain.  We have made dramatic strides in reducing mercury emissions.  We have moved aggressively to reduce carbon emissions tied to global warming and to move our generation fleet to cleaner renewable and natural gas generation.”

The March 8 news release from Dominion does not mention the Potomac Riverkeeper Network or its attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which have threatened to go to court over wastewater issues at Possum Point.

SELC Senior Attorney Greg Buppert said March 9 that the Riverkeeper group is not a part of the settlement on Possum Point. 

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.