The Real Cost of Poor Coal Ash Handling

coal ash handling

What is the true cost of poor coal ash handling procedures and systems that aren’t up to current standards?

Try $102 million.

That’s the total number a utility company in the South paid to the EPA in February, 2015 for coal ash contamination in an alleged 14 coal ash storage sites across the state of North Carolina.

Additionally, the utility was hit with a $25.1 million fine by state regulators for the same violations (although the fine was reduced in a settlement to $7 million). If a state regulatory official had his way, the fine would’ve doubled to $50 million.

Not every utility has undergone the same escapades. After all, the utility was responsible for coating 70 square miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge in 2014 from a coal ash spill. Many utilities, however, are faced with the problems of adapting their coal ash handling processes to new regulations and new threats, not just from regulators but also from environmental advocates who have pressured utilities in courts repeatedly over coal ash handling.

Still, this dilemma speaks to the potential true cost of not adapting ash handling processes and systems before it’s too late.

New Era for Utilities

These problems aren’t the first time a major utility has come under fire for violations of state law and regulations. It won’t be the last, either – especially in an era of unprecedented regulations at the state and federal levels.

For this reason, utilities need to seriously reevaluate their existing coal ash handling procedures. Antiquated equipment isn’t only ineffective; it could also potentially open up a plant to liability down the road as regulators tighten the screws.

Throw in a new, concerted push from environmental advocates and other public policy groups – such as the one mobilizing in North Carolina in reaction to the state’s coal ash handling problems– and utilities are more vulnerable than ever, particularly coal-fired plants.

Coal plants, then, have two options in this new era:

  1. Dramatically revamp existing coal ash handling procedures, particularly moving from wet ash to dry ash handling
  2. Incorporate different fuel sources by converting to natural gas or biomass

Existing coal facilities are divided between the two approaches. ProcessBarron has helped plants with coal ash handling renovations and retrofits, but have also consulted with plants shifting to incorporate biomass into their production scheduling as an alternative fuel. Either is capable of helping to remove regulatory risk from the equation in this new era for utilities.

Contact ProcessBarron for more information on adapting an existing facility to new, tighter standards of operation.