Appalachian Power has filed an application with the Public Service Commission to modify its existing fly ash disposal systems at its John Amos Plant and at two other West Virginia plants. Had Appalachian not acted to make changes mandated by the EPA, all three plants would been required to shutdown by December 31, 2028.
The Amos plant employs around 300 people with a payroll of $27.1 million dollars.
Appalachian is under pressure to meet guidelines established by the EPA issued in 2015. Authority was given to the EPA to regulate numerous solid and hazardous wastes by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 but the agency did not deem fly ash to be a significant threat to human health and to the environment until the latter part of President Obama’s second term.
The guidelines established by Obama’s EPA would have allowed unlined coal ash impoundments like those in place at the Amos Plant to continue to operate if no leaks were detected. A 2014 study found that 37.2% of all unlined fly ash ponds leaked and that clay-lined impoundments (used at the Amos Plant) had a 9.1% chance of contaminating drinking water within a distance of one mile.
A 2019 federal court ruling found that the EPA should have issued more stringent requirements and directed the EPA to require all fly ash ponds without liners to be closed. The Trump EPA issued orders for closure but made allowances for operators to ask for extensions to replace unlined ponds and to install monitoring systems.
In its filing with the PSC, Appalachian proposed to remove all of the ash deposits from Bottom Ash Pond 1A and 1B; reclaim the Clear Water Pond; close Pond 1A, grade, seed and establish natural drainage at Pond 1A; line existing Reclaim and Clear Water Ponds; construct a new lined wastewater Pond 1B; install a chemical treatment system for non-coal combustion residuals (CCR); modify existing bottom ash handling system; and install a new flue gas bio-treatment system. The cost for these changes at Amos is estimated to be $177 million. The time line for completing these projects is December 2022 for dry ash handling, October 2023 for wastewater ponds, and December 2023 for the bio-treatment system. Barring new restrictions, the changes would allow the Amos Plant to operate the remainder of its projected life (2040).
Appalachian’s application includes modifying facilities at the Mountaineer Plant in Mason County and the Mitchell Plant in Moundsville. The total cost to meet all EPA requirements needed to operate the three plants (Alternative 1) until 2040 is $317 million. Appalachian estimates the cost to continue operation at Amos and Mountaineer while closing Mitchell by 2028 (Alternative 2) to be $286 million.
The application filed with the PSC by Appalachian will result an increase in rates for customers. The new rates, however, would be far less than the cost that Appalachian would need to charge to pay for purchased electricity from non-coal fired generated sources. The proposed increased rates and charges related to the project will produce approximately $23.5 million annually in additional revenue, an increase of 1.62%, on substantial completion of the project.