The Big Cleanup

Work starts on clos­ing con­tam­i­nated ponds at power plant

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Buet­tner Staff Writer

CH­ESTER — A mas­sive and costly project to clean up mil­lions of gal­lons of con­tam­i­nated wa­ter at Do­min­ion En­ergy’s Ch­ester­field Power Sta­tion got un­der­way in earnest on Tues­day and is set to con­tinue for the next year and a half.

Prepa­ra­tions for the project to elim­i­nate ponds that store wa­ter con­tam­i­nated with coal ash at the Rich­mond-based elec­tric util­ity’s largest re­main­ing coal-fired power plant have been go­ing on for months. Work al­ready done in­cludes the in­stal­la­tion of a com­plex net­work of

state-of-the-art wa­ter fil­ters and chem­i­cal treat­ment de­vices, and six tanks that will each hold 950,000 gal­lons of pu­ri­fied wa­ter un­til the wa­ter passes fi­nal test­ing and can be re­leased into the James River.

Do­min­ion En­ergy spokesman Robert E. Richard­son said the project rep­re­sents more than just the cleanup of the coal ash ponds on the com­pany’s prop­erty at Dutch Gap, though that will be a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing – the two ponds com­bined hold about 15 mil­lion cu­bic yards of coal ash and 200 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, Richard­son ex­plained, the project will com­pletely change the way the com­pany moves and dis­poses of residue from the power sta­tion’s four huge coal-fired gen­er­a­tors, which have a com­bined ca­pac­ity of nearly 1,300 megawatts and pro­vide elec­tric­ity for 12 per­cent of Do­min­ion’s cus­tomers.

Pro­duc­ing that much power by burn­ing coal cre­ates a lot of ash that has to be re­moved from the gen­er­a­tors. The

method used for most of the more than 70 years the Dutch Gap plant has been op­er­at­ing has been to "sluice" the ash down to the ponds with wa­ter – about 6 mil­lion to 8 mil­lion gal­lons a day at present, Richard­son said.

Keep­ing the ash wet does help pre­vent dust from get­ting into the air, but it also has the po­ten­tial to cause ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. In just the past decade, two spills at Ten­nessee Val­ley Au­thor­ity power plants re­leased more than 5 mil­lion cu­bic yards of coal ash into wa­ter­ways in Ten­nessee and Alabama, while a spill at a Duke En­ergy plant in North Carolina re­leased some 27 mil­lion gal­lons of con­tam­i­nated wa­ter into the Dan River.

Over the years, coal ash has been re­cy­cled rou­tinely into a va­ri­ety of prod­ucts and uses, in­clud­ing Port­land ce­ment, con­crete and land­scap­ing fill. How­ever, health con­cerns have mounted due to the pres­ence in coal ash of toxic sub­stances such as ar­senic and heavy met­als.

All of th­ese is­sues have led the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to re­write the rules for dis­posal and stor­age of coal ash, and Do­min­ion was go­ing to have to make up­grades un­der the new rules. But Richard­son said the com­pany has de­cided not only to com­ply with the changes, but to go be­yond them in clean­ing up the ponds and chang­ing its pro­cesses to cre­ate "an en­hanced pos­i­tive im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment."

Like other util­i­ties, Do­min­ion has been mov­ing away from us­ing coal as fuel for its gen­er­a­tors, switch­ing to nat­u­ral gas at most of its gen­er­at­ing sta­tions. For ex­am­ple, the two new­est of the six gen­er­a­tors at Dutch Gap burn gas. But even at the sta­tions where the com­pany has con­verted com­pletely to gas, ma­jor amounts of ash re­main, and the com­pany is work­ing on elim­i­nat­ing those le­gacy de­posits in much the same way as it's deal­ing with the is­sue in Ch­ester­field.

Cur­rently, Do­min­ion has closed or is in the process of clos­ing all of its re­main­ing coal ash ponds – five at the Pos­sum Point Power Sta­tion in Prince Wil­liam County, three at the Bremo Power Sta­tion in Flu­vanna County and one at the Ch­e­sa­peake En­ergy Cen­ter in Hamp­ton Roads, in ad­di­tion to the two at Dutch Gap.

The coal ash that's left in the ex­ist­ing ponds will be com­pacted and cov­ered with a syn­thetic liner and two feet of soil to pre­vent rain­wa­ter from reach­ing it and caus­ing it to leach con­tam­i­nants into the ground­wa­ter. Go­ing for­ward, ash cre­ated in the gen­er­at­ing process will be trucked to a new, state-of-the-art lined land­fill the com­pany is build­ing on the power sta­tion prop­erty.

The new dry dis­posal process will elim­i­nate the need to use 6 mil­lion to 8 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter a day to sluice the ash out of the gen­er­a­tors, and the com­pany is also build­ing a new wa­ter treat­ment plant at Dutch Gap to han­dle the rel­a­tively small amount of waste­water the power plant will be pro­duc­ing in the fu­ture.

All of this will come at a price, of course — the "de-wa­ter­ing" process alone will run about $2 mil­lion a month over the next 18 months, ac­cord­ing to Richard­son.

More in­for­ma­tion on the coal ash pond clos­ings is avail­able on Do­min­ion's web­site at­min­ionen­ elec­tric-projects/coalash-pond-clo­sure­m­an­age­ment


Gin­ger Phelps, a gen­er­a­tion con­struc­tion project man­ager at Ch­ester­field Power Sta­tion, walks through a tem­po­rary wa­ter treat­ment sys­tem used to treat coal ash pond wa­ter as the plant phases out their coal ash ponds, dur­ing a me­dia tour on Mon­day, Nov. 13, 2017.


A 30-day sup­ply of coal, at right, is piled and ready for burn­ing at the Ch­ester­field Power Sta­tion in Ch­ester on Mon­day, Nov. 13, 2017.


Ja­son Wil­liams, of power gen­er­a­tion op­er­a­tions at Ch­ester­field Power Sta­tion, walks through the room of six tur­bine gen­er­a­tors at the power plant that gen­er­ates 12 per­cent of the elec­tric­ity for all Do­min­ion En­ergy cus­tomers, dur­ing a me­dia tour on Mon­day.

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