ATLANTA — Significant construction activity is completed or well underway at 19 of Georgia Power’s 29 coal ash ponds across the state slated for permanent closure, including at Rome’s Plant Hammond.
The other 10 ash ponds are being closed in place under a plan Georgia Power first unveiled in 2015.
The company plans to spend $1.5 billion to $2 billion to close all of its ash ponds at 11 coal-fired power plants to meet federal regulations for handling coal ash as well as a stricter state rule.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clamped down on pollution from ash ponds in response to a 2008 spill of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash at a plant near Kingston, Tennessee, that smothered about 300 acres of land.
Milestones that Georgia Power announced Tuesday include dewatering of ash ponds, now in progress at six sites: Plant Bowen near Cartersville, Plant McDonough in Smyrna, Plant McManus near Brunswick, Plant McIntosh in Rincon, Plant Branch in Milledgeville and Plant Yates near Newnan, with state-approved plans for Plant Mitchell in Camilla and Plant Hammond near Rome.
Environmental groups say some ash ponds will be sealed in place forever without any protective lining, creating the potential for groundwater contamination. They point to reports released in August by the nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center that showed ash has already leached into the groundwater around some ponds at Georgia Power plants.
Four ash ponds are located at Plant Hammond in Coosa and locally the concern has mainly rested with Ash Pond 3, which is unlined. The SELC study stated Ash Pond 3 lies in a floodplain and if left unlined will leak toxins into the Coosa River.
The company also has installed more than 550 monitoring wells around its ash ponds and on-site landfills to measure groundwater quality.
“As Georgia Power continues to make significant progress on our plans to safely close all of our ash ponds, our focus remains on protecting the environment and our surrounding communities,” said Mark Berry, vice president of Environmental and Natural Resources for Georgia Power.
Georgia Power also is investing heavily in recycling stored coal ash. Earlier this year, the company announced plans at its retired Plant Mitchell site to remove stored coal ash for beneficial reuse.
During the next several years, about two million tons of ash are to be removed from the onsite ash ponds to help create Portland cement, which is used to make concrete. Through July, approximately 11,100 tons of ash had been removed at Plant Mitchell for reuse.
Georgia Power is also requesting proposals for the beneficial reuse of coal ash stored at active and retired coal-fired power plants across the state.
Environmental group are opposed to Georgia Power’s plan to close in place 10 of its 29 coal ash ponds and have pushed instead for the ash to be stored in lined landfills away from waterways.
But Georgia Power officials say the ponds are being closed in place using proven engineering methods and closure technologies.