Coal Ash and Power Plants

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Three major steam power plants are located in the Black Warrior River watershed: Miller Steam Plant, Gorgas Steam Plant, and Greene County Steam Plant.  All three at one point burned coal to produce electricity, so they have onsite waste storage pits for the resulting coal ash.  Coal ash is the toxic waste that remains after coal is burned.  It contains high concentrations of heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic, selenium, and chromium, which are hazardous to human health, wildlife, and waterways.

Miller Steam Plant is located right next to where Village Creek flows into the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior, near the town of West Jefferson in Jefferson County, AL.  Miller is the largest coal-burning power plant in Alabama and has the dubious distinction of being the #1 CO2 emitter in the United States.  Miller’s more than 29 million tons of coal ash are stored in a 321-acre unlined storage pit along the river behind a 170 foot tall earthen dam.  On average during 2018, the maximum daily discharge of coal ash wastewater from Miller’s ash pit into the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River was approximately 11.51 million gallons.  Alabama Power plans to begin de-watering the facility in 2019, with a final closure date estimated for 2029.

coal-burning-MillerSteamPlant.LocustFork_SWAlabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. (Jefferson Co.)
Photo by Nelson Brooke. Flight provided by SouthWings.

Gorgas Steam Plant is situated on both sides of Baker Creek along the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior, near the community of Goodsprings in Walker County, AL.  Gorgas is the oldest coal-burning power plant in the state, originally constructed in 1914.  More than 40 million tons of coal ash have been dumped into Rattlesnake Lake, a 420-acre unlined impoundment formed by damming Rattlesnake Creek in 1953.  On average during 2018, the maximum daily discharge of coal ash wastewater from Rattlesnake Lake into the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River was approximately 28.49 million gallons.  Alabama Power has announced its intent to begin closure of the Rattlesnake Lake coal ash dump in 2019, with final closure anticipated in 2028.

coal-burning-GorgasSteamPlant.MulberryForkAlabama Power’s Gorgas Plant on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River. (Walker Co.)
Photo by Nelson Brooke.

Greene County Steam Plant is situated in a large bend of the Black Warrior, just upriver of Demopolis in Greene County, AL.  More than 16 million tons of coal ash have been placed in a 489-acre unlined storage pit, located on top of what once was Big Slough and associated wetlands, which feed into Backbone Creek, a tributary to the Black Warrior River.  On average during 2018, the maximum daily discharge of coal ash wastewater from Greene County ash pit into the Black Warrior River was approximately 1.5 million gallons.  Closure of the pit has already begun, with the facility initiating the de-watering process in April of 2019.  Alabama Power anticipates that the cap-in-place procedure will be finished by 2024.

coal-burning-GreeneCountySteamPlantAlabama Power’s Greene County Steam Plant on the Black Warrior River. (Greene Co.)
Photo by Nelson Brooke.

To view a Google map created by Riverkeeper showing the power plant’s locations, click here.Drinking_Water_Supplies_and_CoalAsh_AL_Map_2015_0304This map shows Alabama drinking water sources downstream from coal-fired power plants’ coal ash waste impoundments, which discharge tens of millions of gallons of polluted wastewater into Alabama’s water resources every day.

 

Gorgas Steam PlantInundation Map | Emergency Action Plan | CCR Compliance Data

Greene Co. Steam PlantInundation map | Emergency Action Plan | CCR Compliance Data

Miller Steam PlantInundation map | Emergency Action Plan | CCR Compliance Data

For John Wathen’s photo of TVA’s 2008 coal ash spill, click here. (Flight by SouthWings.org)

 

For more information about coal ash threats to Alabama’s waterways:

https://www.coosariver.org/threats-posed-by-coal-ash-in-wilsonville-highlighted-in-recent-filings/

https://www.mobilebaykeeper.org/coalash

https://alabamarivers.org/project/coal-ash/

http://www.southeastcoalash.org/

 

Miller Steam Plant emitted more mercury in 2007 than any other coal-burning power plant in the country, according to EPA data compiled by the Environmental Integrity Project. Gorgas Steam Plant ranked 28th in this category (Total Mercury Pounds Emitted: 2007).  In the category of “Top 50 US Power Plant Mercury Emitters by Pounds per GWh: 2007” Greene County Steam Plant ranked 8th, Miller Steam Plant ranked 15th, and Gorgas Steam Plant ranked 19th.

EPA cites coal-burning power plants as the leading source of mercury air emissions, which end up in the tissue of fish people eat. A potent neurotoxin, mercury is especially dangerous to children and developing fetuses. Coal-burning power plants are also major emitters of air pollutants, including carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals (i.e. mercury & arsenic), and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
Gasp, a nonprofit advocating for cleaner air in Alabama, has a widget on their website that you can use to check local air quality.

For more information about coal in the Black Warrior River watershed, click here.

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