Georgia Power updates its progress on closing coal ash ponds

The Georgia Power unit of Southern Co. (NYSE: SO), which has lately been retiring some of its coal-fired capacity, on Oct. 12 announced the latest progress on its plan to safely close all of its 29 ash ponds across the state.

All of the company’s ash ponds will cease operations and stop receiving ash within the next three years. Additionally, the company is completely removing the ash from 17 ponds located adjacent to lakes or rivers. The ash from these ponds will be relocated to a permitted landfill, consolidated with other closing ash ponds on site or recycled for beneficial use. Approximately 50% of the coal ash Georgia Power produces today is recycled for various uses such as Portland cement, concrete, and cinder blocks.

As part of its comprehensive strategy to implement effective closure plans designed for each individual site, the company said it is in the process of closing the remaining 12 ash ponds using advanced engineering methods, such as the installation of impermeable concrete barriers designed to restrict or isolate the closed pond from groundwater.

Over the past few months, the company has made significant progress on closure activities for 23 of its 29 ash ponds. That progress includes:

  • The complete removal of the ash from three of the 17 ponds located adjacent to lakes or rivers, as well as substantial progress made on three additional ponds expected to be fully excavated before Q4 2017.
  • Significant construction work completed on five of the 12 ponds to be closed in place using advanced engineering methods. One pond is scheduled to be completed in Q4 2016, one pond in Q1 2017, and the other three to be completed by Q1 2018.
  • Engineering activity at all 29 ash ponds underway with active construction occurring at 11 ponds and pre-construction activities at another 12 ponds.
  • The completion of the first of eight rounds of groundwater testing at all 29 ash ponds for 20 different regulated and unregulated substances. All results are being reported to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and being posted to the company’s website.
  • More than 100 documents related to the company’s Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) compliance program (i.e. closure plans, design construction information, etc.) have been prepared and are expected be posted to the website by mid-November (in addition to currently posted information.)
  • Technology selections have been made and active engineering and construction activities for dry ash conversion projects have begun at the company’s largest facilities, including Plants Bowen, Scherer and Wansley.

Ash pond closures are site-specific and balance multiple factors such as pond size, location, geology, and amount of material; and each closure will be certified by a team of independent, professional engineers, Georgia Power noted. Additionally, the company must also ensure reliable electricity for customers during the significant construction work that must take place within each generating plant in order to accommodate the handling of dry ash and complete the ash pond closure process.

Throughout the closure process, Georgia Power is monitoring groundwater around all of its ash ponds and reporting the results to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division as well as posting to the company’s website. More than 500 groundwater monitoring wells will continue to operate even after the ponds are closed. 

Over the last five years, Georgia Power has safely retired or fuel-switched approximately 4,000 MW of coal- and oil-fired generation and the company’s coal-fired generation capacity is nearly half of what it was in 2005.

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.