There is a whole lot of coal ash in Prince William County-millions of tons of the stuff. It is all sitting on a peninsula where Quantico Creek meets the Potomac River in eastern Prince William County. All this coal ash was produced by Dominion Energy at their Possum Point power plant. Coal ash is the remainder left after coal was burned to generate electricity. Coal was used to power the Possum Point power plant from 1948-2003 when they switched to natural gas.
Possum Point Power Station is owned by Dominion Energy. It sits on a 650-acre site located in Dumfries Virginia in the eastern part of Prince William County that borders the Potomac River and the Quantico Creek. There are four generating units; three of which use natural gas as a fuel source, the other is oil fired. Two of the units that are fired using natural gas were converted from coal in May of 2003. Dominion Virginia Power has not burned coal at Possum Point for 18 years and is unlikely to burn coal to generate power in the future.
|from Dominion Energy Presentation|
The U.S.EPA published the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities final rule on April 17, 2015. While the rule was years in development, the Duke Energy coal ash spill in North Carolina in February 2014 brought the need to the attention of the public.
In 2015 right after the release of the rule, Dominion Virginia Power announced that they will close all of the ash ponds at its Virginia power stations including those in Dumfries at Possum Point in compliance with rules.
That did not go smoothly. There was a desire to have a more stringent
regulation in Virginia by many of the Public. The cost to address the coal ash
problem goes into the rate base for electricity. In 2017 Virginia passed SB
1398 that requires that the owner or operator of the coal ash pond:
- Identify and describe any groundwater or surface water pollution located at or caused by the coal ash storage.
- Evaluate the clean closure of the coal ash through excavation and responsible recycling or reuse of coal ash.
- Evaluate the clean closure of the coal ash through the excavation and removal of the coal ash residuals to a dry, lined storage in an appropriately permitted and monitored landfill, including an analysis of the impact that any responsible recycling or reuse options would have on such excavation and removal.
- Demonstrate the long-term safety of the coal ash storage, addressing any long-term risks posed by the proposed closure plan and siting.
After that rule, Dominion Energy proceeded to hire a
consultant to study the options as required. On December 1, 2017 the massive
report prepared by AECOM, an engineering firm, was presented to the State Water
Commission. The report acknowledges that common metals found in coal ash were
detected above EPA standards in groundwater monitoring wells at the site. These
coal ash ponds have been open to the elements and taking on water for decades.
The trace contaminants and metals in the coal ash are probably the source of
the metal contaminants found in the groundwater.
The AECOM report examined the expenses and time frames for the three methods of disposal or recycling the coal ash: recycling for use in concrete, cinder block or wallboard; hauling it to a modern, lined landfill by truck, barge or rail; and Dominion’s original plan of consolidating all of the on-site coal ash into one impoundment , dewatering and closing in place. Their proposal to continue with the original plan did not move forward.
Dominion Energy is now proposing to build and permit a double lined landfill at Possium Point to “dispose” of the coal ash. Last week in a virtual meeting Dominion presented its to bury the millions of pound of coal ash in a new onsite landfill, This proposal is both cheaper and faster than the current alternatives and Virginians pay through increased electric rates for the disposal of the coal ash.
Moving waste from one
site to another just creates another location for potential contamination from
coal ash. The existing coal ash ponds have been open to the elements and taking
on water for decades. Trace contaminants and metals in the coal ash have already
leached into the groundwater, Quantico Creek and Potomac. Creating a landfill
on site would require continual monitoring and maintenance. This is probably
best accomplished at an operating and regulated plant rather than at a remote
cap and leave it location. Though Dominion is proposing a landfill with two
liners, all physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by monitoring
and maintaining the systems.
Possum Point is downstream from nearby drinking water supplies and is unlikely to impact local residents beyond what has already taken place over the decades. Supervisor Baily and the Riverkeepers appear to object to building a landfill on the existing industrial site and prefer moving the coal ash elsewhere. However, I believe the best solution is to always recycle and this was the option favored by the Southern Environmental Law Center. For Possum Point the next best option is closing the coal ash on site because when properly done it requires ongoing monitoring and maintenance that is best accomplished at an operating and regulated plant rather than at a remote cap and leave it location. All physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by monitoring and maintaining the systems and Possum Point is downstream from most drinking water supplies.