Louisville Gas and Electric has been granted a permit to use coal ash from the company’s Cane Run power plant to begin closing a pond on the site.
Burning coal creates coal ash and other byproducts, and usually LG&E disposes of those materials in a landfill or a pond. But with the permit from the Kentucky Division of Waste Management, the company has permission to use the same materials it usually puts in a landfill as fill material. The coal ash will be “beneficially reused” to start covering the pond, in anticipation of the plant’s conversion to natural gas in 2015.
The coal ash is mixed with a material called Pozotec, which creates a concrete-like substance.
“It’ll reduce the amount of material that would have to be trucked in, for example,” Waste Management Assistant Director Tim Hubbard said. “Clay material, other material that would have to typically be used as structural fill, it would take a lot of truckloads of that material to use. And since they’ve got this material available on site, that’s why they proposed to use it.”
But at least one Cane Run neighbor wasn’t happy about the news. Kathy Little has had problems for years with coal ash blowing off the landfill and contaminating her home, and she says using the material to fill in the pond will cause even more problems.
“With the landfill – it has to be more than 100 yards from private residential property,” she wrote in an email. “This really upsets me because this ash/Pozotec (beneficial use permit) will be piled up less than 75 yards if not shorter distances from residential property up and down Cane Run.”
Hubbard confirmed that even though the material is the same in both respects, it’s treated differently under the law when it’s marked as being “beneficially reused.”
LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan says the company is confident that using coal ash to fill in the pond won’t compromise the pond’s integrity. It’s currently rated as a “high hazard” ash pond, largely because a large number of people would be hurt by a potential failure.
“We’re just pleased that we’re able to reuse products in this manner and be able to do that right on the property and begin the process of closing down the ash pond that has been there,” Whelan said. “In the long run, it’s going to be good for the customers and good for the neighbors.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has been weighing regulating coal ash, but hasn’t acted yet. One of the scenarios the EPA is considering would classify the ash as a hazardous waste, which would alter the ways a company could beneficially reuse the product.
The company estimates it will use 500,000 cubic yards of ash to fill in the pond. That’s the equivalent of more than 11 football fields.