East Kentucky Power Cooperative plans to move 560,000 tons of coal ash away from an aging power plant in Clark County, eliminating the potential threat of a large spill into the Kentucky River at Ford.
The project to move the ash from the William C. Dale station to a new landfill at the J.K. Smith power plant at Trapp, east of town, would cost an estimated $26.9 million and affect traffic in the county for an extended period.
The co-op, which supplies power in 87 Kentucky counties, is seeking approval from the state Public Service Commission to pass on the cost to customers. The request would add an estimated 34 cents a month to the average residential bill, according to an application East Kentucky filed with the state.
The plan was the least costly option of several considered to move the ash, and would end any concern about the river being fouled with ash if a flood or earthquake hit the Dale plant, according to the application.
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"It's just best to get it off the riverbank," Mary Jane Warner, director of engineering and construction for the co-op, said in an interview.
The ash is what's left over when coal is burned at power plants to produce electricity. It contains pollutants such as arsenic and metals.
East Kentucky's plan calls for moving the ash by truck from the Dale power plant at Ford, southwest of Winchester, to a new landfill at the J.K. Smith Station power plant at Trapp east of town — 27.3 miles by road.
The roads used to move the ash would include Ky. 627, the Winchester bypass and Ky. 89.
The plan envisions a fleet of trucks hauling an average of at least 132 loads a day from Ford to Trapp, finishing moving all the ash in late 2017.
Co-op spokesman Nick Comer said the trucks would not run in the winter or in wet weather, in order to hold down the moisture content and weight of the ash.
The plan is to begin moving the material in the late summer of 2015, then stop for the winter and resume in the late spring of 2016, Comer said.
The co-op this week asked the PSC for permission to begin building the new landfill at the Smith plant, and for authority to recover the costs from ratepayers. The new landfill would have a liner under it and a system to collect water that leached out. State environmental regulators have already issued a permit to build it.
Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham said he'd heard no opposition to the plan, but he said residents had questions about the truck traffic at a recent meeting where Comer discussed the plan.
Billy Edwards, a former county magistrate who lives near the Trapp plant, said he is concerned about dust that could blow from the trucks or from the landfill when the trucks dump the ash, and about highway safety.
Ky. 89 leading to the Trapp plant is being rebuilt, but there are still relatively narrow two-lane sections, he said.
"Getting it there is gonna be tough on the community," Edwards said.
However, Edwards said it will be better to have the ash in a new landfill with a liner beneath it.
Clare Sipple, president of the Southwest Clark Neighborhood Association, said she is glad East Kentucky is cleaning out the coal ash impoundments at the old Dale plant.
But Sipple said she thinks there is a railroad link that could be used to move the ash, and wondered if that wouldn't be better than moving it by truck.
"That's going to be a lot of dump trucks on the road," Sipple said. "Is it worth the damage to the roads? If it were up to me, I would say use the railroads."
Warner said there is a rail link between the two power plants, but there are challenges to moving the ash by rail. For instance, it would require much more handling of the ash, increasing costs.
The co-op has not ruled out using the rail line, but it is not a promising option, Warner said.
As for safety, co-op officials said the trucks moving the ash would be covered to contain dust and that contracts with trucking companies would include provisions to require safe operation.
Comer said East Kentucky has trucked ash to the Trapp plant before without incident, even before improvements to some sections.
The decision to make the move comes in the context of larger concerns about coal ash.
Those concerns spiked after a massive December 2008 spill west of Knoxville in which more than 5 million cubic yards of coal ash and sludge breached a storage impoundment at a coal-burning power plant, inundating a river, coating more than 300 acres and damaging two dozen homes.
Environmentalists have argued that unlined ash impoundments around the country are leaking cancer-causing pollutants into streams, rivers and groundwater.
In 2009, two environmental groups said the ash impoundments at the Dale plant were among more than 200 nationwide that posed the greatest potential health and environmental risks because they did not have adequate liners.
One ash impoundment at the plant is partly lined, and the other is unlined, Warner said.
She said the co-op has no reason to think contaminants are leaking into the river.
There is no required groundwater monitoring at the site, however. Without that, there is no way to say conclusively whether contaminants are leaching from the Dale station, said Deborah Payne, health coordinator for the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.
The co-op needs to move the ash because it has decided to shut down the Dale power plant, which has four coal-fired generating units, two of them 60 years old.
The old units can't meet pending federal limits on emissions of mercury and other toxins, the utility told the PSC.
As a result, it has shut down the two 1954 units and will idle the other two, which date from 1957 and 1960.
With Dale out of service, East Kentucky probably couldn't get a state permit to leave the coal ash at the site because standards are stricter now than when the utility began storing the ash there in the 1950s, according to its application to the PSC.
East Kentucky studied several other options, such as building a new, lined ash pit at the Dale plant, hauling the ash to a private landfill or trucking it to an impoundment at another co-op power plant in Mason County.
However, taking the material across Clark County was the least expensive option, the utility told the PSC.
The site of the Smith power plant, which burns natural gas or oil to produce electricity, covers more than 3,200 acres, meaning there is ample dirt to cover the ash impoundment and a buffer area away from neighbors, East Kentucky said.
The co-op's permit allows it to build an ash landfill with a capacity of 3.8 million cubic yards, but the request to start construction is for a cell that would hold 750,000 cubic yards.