Power plants that use coal to create electricity often store the leftover ash in ponds and Alabama Power’s newly released plan that details how they plan on closing their coal ash ponds is causing concern among environmentalists.
“In recent years, the federal government approved new coal ash regulations. Based on those regulations and some other regulations based on water treatment, we’ve determined that the best course of action is to move towards closing these ash ponds,” Alabama Power Spokesperson Michael Sznajderman explained.
To put it simply, there are two main methods of closing a coal ash pond. You can drain and scrape out its contents and move the coal ash to a dry and lined landfill somewhere else or you can remove the liquid and place a heavy impermeable cap on top to seal out any water from leaking in or coal ash from leaking out. Both methods are “ok’d” by the EPA.
“We believe closing and capping these ponds on our plant site is the safest and most cost-effective option for us because we can maintain these materials on our site where we can closely monitor them moving forward,” Sznajderman said.
Mobile Baykeeper Director Casi Callaway disagrees and is urging Alabama Power officials to consider empty the pond and moving the coal ash somewhere else.
“We believe that Alabama Power needs to excavate their coal ash and move it to a land fill away from the side of a river,” Callaway. “When you put something really heavy on top of a sponge, which is a wetland where they are, you force that down. So, we see the strong possibility that some of that coal ash could get into the ground water and could leak into our rivers. We don’t know for sure, and we know there’s a lot they’ll have to do to ensure that won’t happen. But, we want them to be a leader and set an example for other companies to follow.”
Sznajderman says that relocating the coal ash is more dangerous than keeping it on site.
“We believe if you try to remove this material, it raises all kinds of additional risks. You’d be moving this material through potentially populated areas to another site where people may not want this material,” Sznajderman said.
The closure plan will take years to complete. In the meantime, Sznajderman says they’ll continue to use the coal ash ponds at their facilities. Barry also relies on steam for power.