Georgia Power says it's making progress on closing its coal ash ponds. Of its 29 ponds around the state, three that are located near rivers or streams have been emptied of ash completely, according to the utility.
Coal ash is a byproduct from burning coal for electricity. Power companies often store it in open ponds, mixed with water. There have been disastrous spills in other states in recent years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rolled out regulations meant to prevent any more big accidents, and also to catch leaks into groundwater that may not have been detected before.
Georgia Power has now installed 236 groundwater monitoring wells at its coal ash ponds, and conducted tests at all of them.
Of those, 17 wells at several different power plants do not meet Georgia Environmental Protection Division standards.
“We have found arsenic, beryllium, selenium and cadmium in those wells. And it may be an isolated instance of one per well, if you will,” said Aaron Mitchell, general manager of environmental affairs at Georgia Power.
He says in all those instances, including at Plant McDonough near Smyrna, the contamination has not left the area of the power plant.
“We don't believe that we are affecting anyone outside of our property,” he said.
Georgia Power replaced its coal-fired units at Plant McDonough with natural gas, but there are still coal ash ponds at the site.
Georgia Power plans to stop adding coal ash to all of its ponds in the next few years, and eventually to close all of them.
The state Department of Natural Resources is considering its own new rules on coal ash storage, following the EPA’s regulations that came out last year.