Louisville Gas and Electric’s plan to put a cap made of coal ash on top of a coal ash pond at the Cane Run Power Plant in southwest Louisville has neighborhood residents concerned. But the head of the state’s solid waste branch says the plan is innovative, and he thinks it can be replicated at other power plants.
When coal is burned, the heavy metal-laced ash that results is disposed of in dry landfills or in ponds. Capping these ponds is something Kentucky hasn’t had to deal with very often. But as some coal-fired powered plants contemplate a transition to natural gas, they’ll have to fill the ponds in.
What LG&E wants to do is use the coal ash that’s produced at Cane Run to create a cap for the pond. The material—called Pozotec—is sort of like concrete, and it will be placed over the pond after all the water is drained out. Solid Waste Branch Manager Ron Gruzesky says the coal ash cap will be impermeable and slightly sloped.
“And the idea there is that most of the rainwater that falls on this spot eventually will be drained off and will never come in contact with the ash that’s sitting there in the pond,” he said.
Gruzesky says using the material that’s already on site makes sense. The company estimates it will need 500,000 cubic yards of ash—the equivalent of more than 11 football fields—and trucking that much material in would be difficult and expensive.
But neighbors of the Cane Run plant are concerned this will bring the coal ash closer to their homes. Because the coal ash is being essentially recycled into a cap, it qualifies under the state’s “beneficial reuse” regulations, which means it’s subjected to different rules than the coal ash that’s placed in the landfill. And nearby residents have already been having problems with dust.
Gruzesky says that’s a valid concern, but one that would unfortunately probably accompany the construction of any kind of cap for the pond. He contends dust in the short-term is still better than an open pond in the long-term.
Cane Run is scheduled to be converted to natural gas in three years.