2017-12-06 / Featured / Front Page

Dominion: Moving coal ash would cost billions


On Monday, environmentalists gathered at Festival Park in Richmond to protest Dominion’s plan to cap in place its coal ash ponds. 
ASH DANIEL On Monday, environmentalists gathered at Festival Park in Richmond to protest Dominion’s plan to cap in place its coal ash ponds. ASH DANIEL Removing coal ash from containment ponds at Dominion Energy’s Chesterfield power station and transporting the material off-site to be either recycled or stored in a lined landfill could take more than 50 years and cost more than $4 billion, according to a report released by the company last week.

An international engineering firm, AECOM, prepared the 846-page report for submission to the State Water Commission Monday morning after analyzing Dominion’s options for the management of coal ash at four of its Virginia power stations.

The analysis was required under bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“In the study of our ponds, AECOM evaluated every feasible closure option for community impact, timeline and cost,” a Dominion spokesman, Robert E. Richardson, said in a statement. “And every option in the report is safe and protective of the environment and human health.”

Chase wanted state lawmakers to have such data prior to the upcoming General Assembly session so they can make an informed decision regarding the future disposition of an estimated 30 million tons of coal ash, a byproduct created by burning coal to generate electricity.

As a result, her bill prohibits the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality from issuing Dominion the permits it needs to begin closing its coal ash ponds until May 2018 at the earliest.

“It is imperative that we take into account not only the initial costs, but long-term cost/benefit analysis as well,” Chase said. “I will continue to work with all stakeholders to evaluate each of the options and the benefits associated with each of them.”

AECOM’s analysis supports Dominion officials’ contention that a process known as “capping in place” is both the most cost-effective and least time-consuming way to close the coal ash ponds.

Dominion maintains that capping in place, which involves covering the ash with an impermeable polyethylene liner and two feet of soil, is the only way to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to have the ponds closed as quickly as possible.

Even with “corrective measures” needed to prevent toxic metals in the ash, such as arsenic, lead and chromium, from leaching out of the unlined ponds and contaminating groundwater, the report estimates the Chesterfield ponds can be closed in that manner within 3 to 5 years at a cost ranging from $246 million to $1.1 billion. By comparison, excavating the estimated 13 million tons of ash and transporting it to an off-site landfill by truck would take 29 years and cost $2.68 billion. Removing the ash and transporting it by rail would take 24 years and cost $4.6 billion.

Removing the ash and recycling it for use in concrete and other construction materials would take from 21 to 53 years and cost between $1.49 billion and $4.25 billion, the report states.

Environmental groups claim the only way to ensure that toxic metals in the ash don’t pollute adjacent waterways, such as the James River, is to excavate the material from the unlined ponds.

Activists and other citizens rallied in downtown Richmond Monday afternoon following the State Water Commission meeting to demand that state lawmakers force Dominion to do just that.

“Coal ash is a toxic byproduct of our fossil fuel past,” said Mary-Stuart Torbeck, community outreach coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, in a press release. “While Dominion’s report acknowledges that the corporation could move coal ash from leaking pits to existing off-site landfills at multiple sites, the report claims it would cost too much. These costs pale in comparison to the importance of ensuring millions of Virginians clean water free from the contaminants like mercury and arsenic.” ¦

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