Georgia Power plans to close two of the four coal ash ponds at Plant Hammond on the Coosa River within two years.
The utility said it would close the other two within a decade to comply with new coal regulations passed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Jacob Hawkins, a spokesman for the utility, said the 10 years are needed to develop new places to store the coal ash.
Coal ash includes mercury, cadmium arsenic and other contaminants. When not properly contained, coal ash can pollute waterways, groundwater and even the air.
The coal ash issue made national headlines in 2008 when a dike failed at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston Fossil Plant near Harriman, Tennessee. An estimated 5.4 million cubic yards ultimately spilled into the main Emory River channel.
The EPA signed new coal rules in December 2014. The lengthy regulations mandate periodic structural integrity assessments of all ponds and the installation of wells for groundwater monitoring.
“Our production of coal ash has been reduced by 60 percent since 2005,” said Hawkins.
Approximately 50 percent of the coal combustion by-products Georgia Power produces today are being recycled to be used in cement, concrete and drywall.
When the first two ash ponds at Plant Hammond are closed, they will be capped and not removed. The EPA does do not require any additional treatment for the coal ash.
Each ash pond closure action is site-specific and involves multiple processes, which take into consideration factors such as pond size, geology and amount of material.
“Everything we do throughout the closure process is about compliance with federal regulations, balance and ensuring reliability for customers,” Hawkins said. “Over the last five years, we have safely retired or fuel-switched approximately 4,000 megawatts of coal and oil-fired generation, and our coal-fired generation capacity is nearly half of what it was in 2005.”
For several years, Georgia Power has been trucking coal ash to a disposal site on Huffaker Road in Floyd County. That site will not require any modifications to comply with the CCR rules, because it is considered to be a landfill.
The company said there is no difference at all in the material being trucked to the remote Huffaker Road site and that which has been stored next to the power plant in Coosa.
The closure of all 29 ash ponds throughout the state is expected to cost Georgia Power well over a billion dollars.
Bill Edge, the public information officer for the Georgia Public Service Commission, said Georgia Power could conceivably seek to recover the costs associated with the coal ash pond closure, but would probably do so that in a rate case.
That would not take place in the next three years since Georgia Power and the Southern Company have agreed not to file for an increase in rate until 2019 at the earliest as part of a settlement associated with the Southern Co.’s acquisition of Atlanta Gas Light Resources.