Breaking Down Georgia Power’s Coal Ash Closure Data

Georgia Power's Plant Wansley with its coal ash pits outlined in yellow.

Georgia Power is planning to “close” pits containing billions of gallons of toxic coal ash and contaminated wastewater at 11 power plants. Despite promises in September 2015 to release a plan six months hence – roughly April 1 – the utility provided scant details this spring, so we dug into documents it submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to paint a clearer picture.

Overall, SACE is very concerned that Georgia Power seems to favor leaving its toxic coal ash where it is, threatening ground and surface water, presumably forever – and has yet to provide actual closure plans for the majority of its ash ponds.

Leaving coal ash in place where it can leach into groundwater is not clean up, even if it is covered or “capped” on top. The state of Georgia has made some gestures toward protecting communities from this dangerous waste, but Georgia Power is already moving ahead with inadequate plans and sharing few details, or in some cases no details at all. State agencies and public officials need to act now to value the health of Georgians and the environment over Georgia Power’s bottom line.

Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) needs to step in now and ensure Georgia’s communities are protected from Georgia Power’s coal ash pollution. EPD should require Georgia Power to remove its coal ash from unlined pits to lined, dry storage away from rivers and waterways where it will not contaminate groundwater, or put already vulnerable environmental justice communities at additional risk.

Aerial view of Georgia Power's Plant Scherer.

The impetus for Georgia Power to begin “closing” its coal ash pits came from the EPA’s recent coal ash and effluent limitation rules, which set minimum federal requirements for storage and handling of coal ash, and liquid discharges from coal ash waste, respectively. However, the EPA’s coal ash rule is self-enforcing, meaning it can only be enforced through lawsuits brought by citizens or through the actions of state agencies like EPD.

Last year, EPD suggested it would set state rules on coal ash that would go beyond EPA’s minimum requirements, but it has yet to follow through. Under EPA’s rule, Georgia Power is allowed to put a liner on top of its coal ash pits and call it a day. Ponds that close before April 17, 2018 aren’t even federally required to maintain groundwater monitoring. Georgians deserve better protections. EPD should issue a state rule as soon as possible, and ensure that the new water discharge rules are fully applied to all Georgia coal plants.

Some of Georgia’s other public officials are hearing from constituents concerned about coal ash, and responding. Rep. Hank Johnson (D – Georgia) recently introduced a federal bill that would close loopholes in the EPA’s coal ash rule and strengthen protections for communities near landfills that store coal ash. Georgia’s General Assembly created a committee to study coal ash disposal issues. We’re pleased to see the Assembly responding to community coal ash concerns and hope the committee’s study will result in more assured safety.

What We Know: Georgia Power’s Coal Ash and Closure Plans

Georgia Power is planning to close all of its coal ash pits, but is leaving the public mostly in the dark about just how it will handle the billions of gallons of coal ash and wastewater in these pits. Georgia Power provided details on its closure methods for all coal ash pits at only one of its 11 power plants: Plant McDonough, where the utility plans to remove an undisclosed amount of coal ash and cap nearly 5 million tons of ash in place.

We know partial details on Georgia Power’s closure plans at three other plants: Plant McManus, Plant Yates, and Plant Hammond. This closure information is available thanks to disclosure requirements under EPA’s coal ash rule. According to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Power also said in late March that by 2018 it will close 12 ash pits total at six facilities within two years, and 17 more pits at the other five facilities in the next two to 14 years. The article does not report any further details about the timeline for each ash pit or whether the ash would be capped in place or removed.

Below, we list Georgia Power’s 11 power plants, the amount of known ash and wastewater at each site, and Georgia Power’s closure plans for each site if they are available. We list the ash pits using Georgia Power’s terminology. “AP” is an abbreviation of “Ash Pond.” Click links to download .pdfs of the source documents.

Plant Yates (near Newnan):

  • AP-A: Georgia Power will remove an undisclosed amount of coal ash and wastewater from this pit by April 17, 2018.
  • AP-1: At least 59,986,282 gallons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater will be removed from this pond by the end of 2016.
  • AP-2AP-3Ash Pond B, & Ash Pond B’: Georgia Power has not provided details on its plans for these four pits or the 2,332,268 tons of coal ash and 137,520,875 gallons of contaminated wastewater stored there.

Plant Branch (near Eatonton):

  • Ash Ponds A, B, C, D, E: Georgia Power has not provided details on its plans for at least 1,641,542,388 gallons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater stored in these pits. Since this facility is retired, it’s likely that all of its coal ash pits will be closed by 2018.

Plant Kraft (Port Wentworth)

  • Kraft ash pond: Georgia Power has not provided details on its plans for this pit and at least 6,591,623 gallons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater stored there.

Plant Hammond (near Coosa & Rome):

  • AP-1AP-2, & AP-4: According to a report by the Rome News-Tribune, Georgia Power plans to close two of its pits within two years (the plan for AP-3 is detailed below) and two of its pits within the next 10 years. Georgia Power did not provide specific details on the timelines for each of these three pits which together contain 617,549,283 gallons of ash and contaminated wastewater.
  • AP-3: This pit contains at least 223,822,553 gallons of ash and wastewater. The pit’s liquids will be transferred to AP-1 and the remaining ash will be capped in place by April 17, 2018.

Plant McManus (near Brunswick)

  • AP-1: An undisclosed amount of coal ash and wastewater will be excavated and removed to an “off-site permitted landfill” by April 17, 2018. Wastewater will be “treated if necessary” before being discharged at some point in 2016.

Plant McDonough-Atkinson (near Atlanta & Smyrna):

  • AP-2: This pit contains an undisclosed amount of coal ash and contaminated wastewater which will be removed by 2017. Contaminated wastewater will be routed to other onsite pits (AP-3 & AP-4) for later discharge.
  • AP-1AP-3 & AP-4: The three remaining pits, containing at least 990,480,567 gallons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater, will be capped-in-place. Prior to being capped in place, AP-1’s liquids will be routed to AP-3 and AP-4. Liquids will be discharged from AP-3 & AP-4 at some point in 2016.

Plant Scherer (near Macon)

  • AP-1: Georgia Power has not provided details on its plans for this pit and the 15,638,002 tons of coal ash and 2,951,414,967 gallons of contaminated wastewater stored there.

Plant Bowen (near Euharlee)

  • AP-1: Georgia Power has not provided details on its plans for this pit and the 21,170,691 tons of coal ash and 57,483,016 gallons of contaminated wastewater stored there.

Plant Mitchell (near Albany)

  • Ash Ponds A, 1, and 2: Georgia Power has not provided details on its plans for these three pits or the 370,727,140 gallons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater stored there.

Plant McIntosh (near Rincon)

  • AP-1 Cells A, B, C, & D: Georgia Power has not provided details on its plans for these four pits or the 41,361 tons of coal ash and 75,088,081 gallons of contaminated wastewater stored there.

Plant Wansley (near Carrollton)

  • AP-1: Georgia Power has not provided details on its plans for this pit or the 14,116,013 tons of coal ash and 2,118,166,121 gallons of contaminated wastewater stored there.

 Notes on Methodology

We analyzed each “Report of Annual Inspection of CCR Surface Impoundment” Georgia Power was required to submit to EPA under the federal coal ash rule to provide total tons of coal ash and gallons of wastewater. For ash pits at retired plants or ash pits Georgia Power announced for closure, thereby avoiding disclosure of ash and wastewater details, we reviewed EPA’s Information Request from 2009.

For ash and wastewater values, we apply the conversion factor: one cubic yard equals one ton. This average conversion factor was used by EPA in its CCR_RIA_Appendices (.pdf) for the final federal coal ash rule (See Att. 42, U.S. EPA, Appendices for Regulatory Impact Analysis for Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) Landfills and Surface Impoundments at Electric Utility).

Note that Georgia Power reports plans to close all 29 of its coal ash pits within 14 years. We list 31 pits. This discrepancy could be due to ponds being categorized differently in 2015 than they were on Georgia Power’s responses to EPA’s Information Request in 2009.

4/11/2016: We updated this post to include new information on Plant Hammond reported by the Rome News-Tribune.

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