What Is Your Electric Utility Planning for its Coal Ash?

Utilities in the Southeast are already starting to “close” toxic coal ash pits. We calculated how much ash will be excavated and how much will be left in mostly unlined pits posing a perpetual contamination risk to ground and surface water. In the Southeast:

  • 309.7 million tons of coal ash will be “closed” by 2030.
  • 252.2 million tons of that ash will be capped in place.
  • 57.5 million tons of ash will be excavated to lined landfills.
  • 12 billion gallons of wastewater will need to be eliminated, often through discharges into our waterways.

An additional 3.9 billion gallons of combined ash and wastewater will need to be excavated or capped in place (some utilities did not separate ash from wastewater in their reporting).

Below, we’ve broken down the totals for North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama and provided a summary of how agreements to excavate over 20 million tons of coal ash were achieved in South Carolina.

You can find this information and much more on Southeastcoalash.org, which we manage and update regularly. The site allows users to explore coal ash containment sites and potentially contaminated watersheds using our map and data features. Click here to learn more about using Southeastcoalash.org to discover if toxic coal ash is stored near you.

South Carolina

South Carolina’s three power utilities, South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G), Duke Energy, and Santee Cooper, agreed to remove all coal ash from unlined pits near waterways throughout the state, approximately 20 million tons in total. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) led the charge representing SACE, Riverkeepers, and other advocacy organizations in a series of lawsuits from 2012–2015.

South Carolina’s utilities are proving that excavation can be done relatively quickly and that it creates huge positive results for the environment. Santee Cooper, which SELC sued on behalf of SACE, Waccamaw Riverkeeper, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League in 2012, has already removed over one third of its ash. Since SCE&G started removing coal ash from the Wateree power plant site, arsenic at two wells beneath the ash pit decreased by over 90 percent. SELC and the Catawba Riverkeeper won cleanup at Wateree through a 2012 lawsuit.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, Duke is planning to excavate 35.7 million tons of coal ash and cap 71.4 million in place. Some of the ash may also be recycled. Advocates across the state organized thousands of North Carolinians to engage in regulatory processes and support legislation to achieve proper cleanup. Several organizations participated in lawsuits, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, that helped ensure coal ash was excavated from many of Duke’s coal ash impoundments in NC. SACE was part of the successful Dan River case.

Plant Number of storage units with publicly available schedules for closure Closure Method(s) Estimated Closure Year(s) Ash Tons Currently in Closing Ponds Wastewater Gallons Currently in Closing Ponds Lined/Unlined
Asheville 1 Excavation 2022 2,804,250 9,776,000 Unlined
Asheville 1 Excavation 2017  291,303  -  Unlined
Belews Creek 1 Cap in place 2028 11,890,000 959,960,000 Unlined
Buck 3 Excavation  2029 6,410,000 89,000,000  Unlined
Cape Fear 5 Excavation 2028 5,760,000 Unknown Unlined
Cliffside (Rogers) 4 Excavation 2020 353,000 - Unlined
 Cliffside (Rogers) 2 Cap in place  2026 6,091,000 305,760,000 Unlined
Dan River 2 Excavation 2019 1,600,000 21,509,999 Unlined
 G.G. Allen 2 Cap in place 2028  17,600,000  64,000,000 Unlined
 H.F. Lee 5 Excavation  2028 5,830,000 47,200,000 Unlined
 L.V. Sutton 2 Excavation  2019  6,650,000 65,390,000 Unlined
 Marshall 1 Cap in place 2029  16,700,000 140,650,000 Unlined
 Mayo 3 Cap in place 2026 5,500,000 481,670,000  Unlined
 Riverbend 2 Excavation 2019 3,620,000 - Unlined
 Roxboro 6 Cap in place 2028  13,622,000  122,824,000 Unlined
 Weatherspoon 1 Excavation 2024 2,450,000  -  Unlined
TOTALS 41 107,171,553 2,307,739,999

 

Florida

In Florida, over 98 million gallons of ash and wastewater will be removed from four pits at Tampa Electric Big Bend Station near Tampa. 3.6 million tons of ash will be capped in place at two other power plant sites owned by other utilities.

Thanks to a landmark settlement agreement in 2015, Gulf Power is cleaning up its coal ash at the retired Scholz Generating Plant near Sneads, Florida. SACE, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance, represented by Earthjustice, sued the utility under the federal Clean Water Act for allowing coal ash to leak from unlined pits into the Apalachicola River. Because of this settlement, Gulf Power is removing its coal ash from unlined pits at Scholz to an onsite landfill with an underground wall designed to prevent groundwater contamination. Gulf will monitor groundwater for signs of leakage.

Plant Utility Number of storage units with publicly available schedules for closure Closure Method(s) Estimated Closure Year(s) Ash Tons Currently in Closing Ponds Last Known Combined Total of Ash and Wastewater Gallons Wastewater Gallons Currently in Closing Ponds Lined/Unlined
Scholz Gulf Power  3 Excavation to dry storage area  2018 - - - Underground slurry wall
Big Bend Tampa Electric Company 4 Excavation 2018 - 98,361,351 - 3 Lined1 Unlined
Lansing Smith Gulf Power 1 Cap in place 2023 3,464,000 - 42,212,571 Unlined
Stanton Energy Center Orlando Utilities 1 Cap in place 2024 145,200 - - Lined
TOTALS 9 3,609,200 98,361,351 42,212,571

 

Tennessee

If the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has its way, 13.4 million tons of coal ash will be capped in place in unlined storage facilities, some of which are inundated with groundwater.

In August 2015, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) released a Commissioner’s Order requiring TVA to investigate its coal ash storage facilities and identify and clean up any coal ash contamination problems it discovers. If TDEC holds TVA’s feet to the fire, this order could result in improved plans that clean up coal ash by excavating it to lined landfills away from Tennessee’s waterways.

Plant Number of storage units with publicly available schedules for closure Closure Method(s) Estimated Closure Year(s) Ash Tons Currently in Closing Ponds Wastewater Gallons Currently in Closing Ponds Lined/Unlined
Allen 1 Cap in place 2017 2,230,000 28,970,548 Unlined
 Bull Run 2 Cap in place  2017 & 2018 3,500,000  Unknown Unlined
John Sevier 1 Cap in place 2017 770,000 Unknown Unlined
Kingston 2 Cap in place 2017 & 2018 700,000 Unknown Unlined
Cumberland 1 Cap in place 2024 6,210,166 - Unlined
TOTALS 7 13,410,166 28,970,548

 

Georgia

Georgia Power is planning to cap over 52.4 million tons of coal ash in place compared to only 1.8 million tons that it plans to excavate. At least 2.8 billion gallons of combined coal ash and wastewater is also slated for closure in place. The exact volume comparisons of water to ash were not reported by the utility. Georgia Power’s 29 coal ash pits statewide reportedly contain at least 86 million tons of coal ash, the figures above are drawn from publicly available documents we tracked down. Some of this discrepancy is undoubtedly due to how we converted cubic yards to tons (see Disclaimer and Notes on Methodology and Sources).

In Georgia, we and our allies advocated for a strong coal ash rule during the Environmental Protection Division’s recent rule-making process. Even with a state rule in place, Georgia Power is still planning to leave the majority of its ash in unlined pits on the banks of the state’s waterways.

Plant Number of storage units with publicly available schedules for closure Closure Method Estimated Closure Year Ash Tons Currently in Closing Ponds Last Known Combined Total of Ash and Wastewater Gallons Wastewater Gallons Currently in Closing Ponds Lined/Unlined
Bowen 1 Cap in place 2022 21,170,691 - 57,483,019 Unlined
Branch 5 Excavate four pits, add to fifth pit, then close in place Unknown - 1,641,542,388 - Unknown
Hammond 1 Excavation  2024 367,100  - 48,191,003 Unlined
Hammond 1 Excavation 2024 360,000 - 72,710,649 Unlined
Hammond 1 Excavation Unknown - 349,792,352 - Unlined
 Hammond 1 Cap in place   2018 - 223,822,553 -  Unlined
 Hammond 1 Cap in place  2027  450,000  - Lined
Kraft 1 Excavation  Unknown  -  6,591,623  - Lined
 McDonough  1 Cap in place, 2017  -  177,737,143  -  Unlined
McDonough 1 Consolidate with other closing pits 2017 - Unknown - Unlined
McDonough 1 Consolidate with other pits and cap in place 2018 - 209,245,090 -  Unlined
McDonough 1 Consolidate with other pits and cap in place 2018 - 603,498,389 - Unlined
McIntosh 1 Excavation 2022 26,871 - 17,454,595 Unlined
McManus 1 Excavation 2018 - Unknown - Unlined
Mitchell 3 Excavation Unknown - 370,727,140 - Unknown
Scherer 1 Cap in place 2030 15,233,822 - 2,951,415,136 Unlined
Wansley 1 Cap in place 2026 14,116,013 - 2,118,166,242 Unlined
Wasnley 1 Cap in place 2024 161,600 - - Unknown
Yates 1 Excavation 2018 - Unknown -
Yates 1 Cap in place 2021 56,815 - - Unlined
Yates 1 Cap in place 2021 473,627 - - Unlined
Yates 1 Excavation 2017 - 59,986,282 - Unlined
Yates 1 Excavation 2020 1,051,626 - 137,520,883 Unlined
Yates 1 Cap in place 2021 750,200 - - Unlined
TOTALS 30 54,218,365 3,642,942,960 5,402,941,527

 

Alabama

Alabama Power plans to spend over $1 billion on coal ash handling and other environmental compliance at coal plants over the next five years. The utility plans to spend an additional $1.034 billion over a longer period to cap nearly 84 million tons of coal ash in place. With the addition of 28.2 million tons of ash from TVA’s two plants in northern Alabama, that’s 111 million tons of ash capped in unlined pits near Alabama’s rivers and waterways and 4 billion gallons of wastewater that will need to be eliminated.

Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) should take action immediately to require proper storage and disposal of coal ash to protect Alabamians’ health and the health of the environment.

Plant Utility Number of storage units with publicly available schedules for closure Closure Method Estimated Closure Year Ash Tons Currently in Closing Ponds Last Known Combined Total of Ash and Wastewater Gallons Wastewater Gallons Currently in Closing Ponds Lined/Unlined
Barry ApCo 1 Cap in place 2027 15,760,000 - 302,961,039 Unlined
Gadsden ApCo 1 Cap in place 2018 unknown 215,647,263 unknown Unlined
Gaston ApCo 1 Cap in place 2025 23,650,000 - 201,974,026 Unlined
Gorgas ApCo 1 Cap in place 2028 17,375,000 - 3,502,902,857 Unlined
Greene C. ApCo 1 Cap in place 2024 8,700,000 - 52,513,247 Unlined
Miller ApCo 1 Cap in place 2029 17,695,000 - 262,566,234 Unlined
Colbert TVA 1 Cap in place 2018 3,200,000  -  61,223,377 Unlined
Widows Creek TVA 3  Cap in place 2018 25,000,000  - - Unlined
TOTALS 10   111,380,000  215,647,263  4,384,140,780

 

Background: Coal Ash Rules and Disposal Concerns

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently created federal coal ash and effluent limitation guideline rules, which set minimum federal requirements for storage and handling of coal ash and liquid discharges from coal ash waste, respectively.

In general, utilities are responding to these rules by shifting from wet to dry handling and storage of their ash. Many are choosing to reduce the amount of water in ash pits and place a cap on top (“cap in place”). This method has not been shown to reduce the risks of groundwater contamination and leaves ash dangerously close to rivers where it can be vulnerable to flooding. The best way to reduce the contamination risks of coal ash is to excavate the ash and move it to lined, dry landfills away from our waterways.

It’s also critical that permanent coal ash disposal options do not have an unfair impact on low-income residents and communities of color who have disproportionately and historically borne the brunt of pollution.

Disclaimer and Notes on Methodology and Sources:

Our goal is to provide the most accurate information possible to the public. We welcome corrections, new information, or suggestions submitted by utilities or other interested parties.

We limited our analysis to utility coal ash storage sites scheduled to close by 2030. Our ash and wastewater totals were calculated from information utilities were required to publish on publicly available websites under the federal coal ash rule. In the case of Duke Energy, ash totals were pulled from its “Duke Energy Ash Metrics Fleetwide” (PDF will download) report from September 2016. For ash pits at retired plants or ash pits where utilities have not provided recent data on ash and wastewater volumes, 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).

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