Alabama Power reviewing inspection procedures

Published 3:11 pm Friday, January 2, 2009

Alabama Power officials are reviewing inspection procedures for their coal ash holding ponds in the aftermath of the Dec. 22 toxic ash spill at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Kingston, Tenn.

One of the Alabama Power holding ponds is outside the Gaston Plant in Wilsonville.

Alabama Power spokesperson Pat Wylie said the company has a major inspection for each pond at least every two years. Gaston Plant officials inspect their holding pond daily for signs of erosion, cracking or animals burrowing.

“There are things you check for continuously,” he said. “When we see the presence of any one of those, then we immediately rectify that situation to avoid any damage.”

The pond holds coal ash, which plant workers collect by combining it with water and depositing it into the pond.

“It’s basically our way of collecting 99.9 percent of dry ash that would normally go up into the stack,” Wylie said.

However, the coal ash mixture doesn’t stay in the pond permanently. Rather, it can be dredged out, dried and sold to use in concrete and road construction.

The Wilsonville holding pond is approximately 10 to 12 acres, or about the size of 10 football fields, Wylie said.

Parts of the pond are dammed up to prevent the coal ash mixture from escaping. Alabama Power has also planted trees around the pond to help protect the integrity of the pond.

The Gaston Plant is close to residential areas of Wilsonville, making the daily inspections even more valuable, Wylie said.

If there’s any discharge from the pond, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management must be immediately notified to make sure the discharge is within acceptable levels.

There has never been a spill at any of Alabama Power’s six coal-burning plants, Wylie said.

When the Kingston, Tenn. storage pond gave way on Dec. 22, it released a billion gallons of coal ash sludge, which spread across 300 acres, destroying three houses and displacing a dozen families.