Georgia Power last week announced updated, site-specific closure plans for ash ponds at Plants Branch and Bowen as part of its efforts to safely and permanently close 29 ash ponds at 11 current and former coal-fired power plants across the state. Based on continued engineering and analysis, the company has increased the total number of ash ponds to be completely excavated to 19 from 17, including all ash ponds located adjacent to lakes or rivers, with the remaining 10 being closed in place using advanced engineering methods and closure technologies.
Georgia Power first announced its intention to permanently close all of its ash ponds in September 2015, with initial plans released in June 2016 including the complete removal of ash from 16 of 29 ash ponds. Throughout the closure process, the company has remained dedicated to protecting water quality and the state’s waterways by making, and refining, site-specific closure decisions that balance multiple factors such as pond size, location, geology and amount of material. The company is meeting or exceeding all regulations regarding ash ponds and landfills in the state and adhering to a comprehensive permitting program through which the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) approves actions related to ash pond closures. Each closure will also be certified by independent, professional engineers.
At Plant Branch, near Milledgeville, the company plans to completely excavate the ash ponds onsite, then store the ash in a new, lined landfill on plant property. The planned landfill will be fully permitted and regulated by Georgia EPD. This updated closure plan allows the company to preserve the option to better recycle the ash in the future and maximizes the potential for future redevelopment or sale of the site. More than 60 percent of the coal ash Georgia Power produces today is recycled for various beneficial uses such as Portland cement, concrete and cinder blocks.
Since 2016, Georgia Power has installed approximately 500 groundwater monitoring wells around its ash ponds and on-site landfills to actively monitor groundwater quality. Monitoring is being conducted in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. The company has also engaged independent, third-party contractors for sampling and accredited independent laboratories for analysis. The first round of testing was completed with results published in August 2016, more than 18 months ahead of federal requirements, and the company continues to post testing results on Georgia Power’s website and report them to the Georgia EPD. Based on the extensive data collected, the company has identified no risk to public health or drinking water.
Georgia Power’s commitment to protecting the water quality of surface waters, such as lakes and rivers, includes comprehensive and customized dewatering processes during ash pond closures. As announced in August 2017, Georgia Power’s efforts to dewater its ash ponds are well underway and, similar to the process in place for groundwater monitoring, results are posted to Georgia Power’s website and reported to the Georgia EPD. The company’s dewatering process treats the water removed from the ash ponds to ensure that it meets or exceeds the requirements of each plant’s wastewater discharge permits approved by the Georgia EPD and is protective of applicable water quality standards.