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Georgia Power to Launch Largest Ever Coal Ash Harvesting Project

June 29, 2022 by Kate Michael
Plant Bowen near Cartersville, Georgia. (Georgia Power)

ATLANTA — Georgia Power on Wednesday unveiled a new project with a leading U.S. producer of sustainable cement alternatives. The project calls for millions of tons of stored coal ash to be excavated for use in concrete to construct bridges, roads, and buildings throughout the Southeast.

The utility company claims the Plant Bowen project near Cartersville, Georgia, would be the single largest beneficial use project of its kind in the U.S., and the largest ever for Georgia Power.

Infrastructure installation to accommodate the work at Plant Bowen will begin immediately, with ash removal expected to begin by 2024. Nine million tons of coal ash are expected to be harvested and used under this project alone.

Coal ash, or the waste left after coal is burned at coal-fired electric power plants, is toxic waste containing contaminants including mercury, cadmium, and arsenic that can cause both groundwater and air pollution.

But ash has also long been effectively used as an ingredient for cement and other construction materials, including in projects like the Hoover Dam in the 1930s.

”Georgia Power is always researching and exploring new and innovative ways to reuse coal ash that is beneficial to our customers and our communities,” Aaron Mitchell, vice president of Environmental Affairs for Georgia Power said in a statement.

“Finding and securing these opportunities to beneficially use coal ash will not only reduce and save space in landfills, but will also serve as a financial tool to help offset the cost of ash pond closures for our customers.”

As part of Georgia Power’s 2022 Integrated Resource Plan, the company is phasing out its coal-burning plants and investing instead in natural gas and renewable energy. This switch will necessitate the company to permanently close its 29 ash ponds at 11 coal-fired power plants across the state.

Federal and state rules specify two approved methods for closing ash ponds, either closure in place or closure by removal, with standards for both to ensure they are safe and protective of the environment.

Earlier this year, the company came under fire from environmentalists for previous plans to close, or cap-in-place, coal ponds with ash located near groundwater.

This landmark Plant Bowen project came out of a research facility partnership between Georgia Power and the Electric Power Research Institute, the Ash Beneficial Use Center, which allows for pilot projects and technology testing to identify, evaluate, and speed the development of beneficial uses of coal ash.

Georgia Power claims to already recycle 85% of all ash and gypsum, including more than 90% of fly ash, that it produces from operations, but the company seeks to identify opportunities for the remaining coal ash stored at active and retired coal-fired power plants across the state.

“As concrete manufacturers continue to work to achieve carbon neutrality in production, and power companies seek modern and innovative solutions for beneficial use of coal ash, this voluntary project in Georgia is a model for the industry, directly responding to both market and environmental needs,” Tom Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, said.

“With the nationwide focus on improving American infrastructure including roads and bridges, demand for materials continues to outpace available supply, and collaborative projects such as this will be critical to bridging that gap in the future.”

Kate can be reached at kate@thewellnews.com

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