ATLANTA – Georgia Power announced plans Wednesday to recycle more than 9 million tons of coal ash stored at Plant Bowen at a pace of about 600,000 tons per year.
The largest beneficial use project for coal ash in the nation will excavate ash from the plant near Cartersville and convert it into concrete for constructing roads, bridges and buildings across Georgia and the Southeast.
“Finding and securing these opportunities to beneficially use coal ash will not only reduce and save space in landfills,” said Aaron Mitchell, Georgia Power’s vice president of environmental affairs. “[It] will also serve as a financial tool to help offset the cost of ash pond closures for our customers.”
Georgia Power is spending $9 billion on a multi-year plan to close all 29 of its ash ponds at 11 coal-burning power plants across the state. While ash is be excavated and removed from 19 of the ponds, the other 10 are scheduled to be closed in place.
Coal ash contains contaminants including mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can pollute groundwater and drinking water as well as air.
The future of Plant Bowen is uncertain. Two of the plant’s four coal-burning units were due to be retired by 2028 under a proposal Georgia Power submitted to the state Public Service Commission (PSC) last January.
But an agreement the Atlanta-based utility reached with the PSC’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff this month would leave that decision up to the commission.
The PSC will vote next month on the agreement as part of Georgia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), an update the utility provides every three years on the mix of energy sources it will rely upon for the next 20 years to meet the needs of its customers.
The decision on whether to close the two units at Plant Bowen by 2028 or wait until a future date likely won’t affect the viability of the beneficial reuse project, said Bobby Baker, an energy lawyer representing Atlanta-based sustainability nonprofit Southface Institute in the IRP case.
“There’s sufficient coal ash on site right now to provide adequate supply for several years for their program,” he said.
“The coal ash at Bowen can be reused regardless of whether or not the power plant itself retires,” added Charline Whyte, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Georgia.
“It would be a huge mistake to view the plant as a coal ash factory when the power it produces is costing customers millions in excess costs and still pollutes air and water.”
Utah-based Eco Materials Technologies, the nation’s leading producer of sustainable cement alternatives, will manage the project at Plant Bowen for Georgia Power.
“As the largest partnership of its kind in the U.S., this project will not only use material from landfills and ash ponds, but also keep millions of tons of [carbon dioxide] from going into the atmosphere,” said Grant Quasha, Eco Materials Technologies’ CEO.
“The harvested material will be used in concrete to make stronger and longer-lasting bridges and roads and serve as a model for helping forward-thinking utilities like Georgia Power and [parent] Southern Company close landfills and ash ponds while building a greener and more sustainable planet.”
The installation of infrastructure necessary for the work at Plant Bowen will begin immediately, with ash removal expected to begin by 2024.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.