Skip to Content

New EPA coal rules would affect Columbia power plant

Coal and wood pour into a 50-foot tall machine inside Columbia’s Municipal Power Plant. It looks like a giant stove, especially since you can see the orange glow of fire through the cracks of the small doors. However, Christian Johanningmeier, the plant’s supervisor, calls it a boiler. It’s where the coal and wood burn to create energy for the city, about seven to nine percent of it, according to Johanningmeier.

The Environmental Protection Agency released new rules last Friday on the byproduct of this burnt coal. Although many of their rules dealt with the byproduct going up – the smoke – the new rules deal with what goes down – the ash.

For the last six years, the EPA has inspected each of the country’s coal-burning plants and the ways they handle the coal ash. In 2008, the dam for a containment pond for Kingston Fossil in Tennessee burst, letting flow more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Tennessee River. Since then, the federal agency sought new rules on handling coal ash.

While the new rules apply to all coal burning plants, Johanningmeier points out a difference in the ash produced by Kingston Fossil and the city’s Municipal Power Plant. The Kingston boilers made a fine ash, which liquified quicker when mixed with water.

“We have older, stoker units,” Johanningmeier told ABC 17 News. “So the ash that we produce here is like fine gravel or sand.”

Columbia Water & Light uses a nearby lake to water the ash down, called “sluicing.” The power plant takes in water from More’s Lake and sluices the coal ash at the bottom of the boilers. That mixture flows back into More’s Lake, where crews dredge the bottom of the lake to dry out the ash. Johanningmeier said nearby road departments take the dried ash for free to use during the winter time for road traction.

The EPA’s report said U.S. coal plants produced 110 million tons of coal ash in 2012. Only 40% of it, though, was recycled.

More’s Lake came under scrutiny during CDM Smith’s inspection for the EPA in 2012. The engineering firm called it a “high” hazard because the city had no construction records of the lake. City officials said before the lake was built in the late 1890s, meaning records of its construction may have never existed. To replace it, though, the city had to hire another engineering firm to do a structural and hydraulic test of the lake. Johanningmeier said Crockett Engineering completed the first part, and called the dam of More’s Lake structurally sound. The firm is still working on the hydraulic part of the test.

Johanningmeier said the engineering report cost the department a little less than $40,000.

It may not be the only cost the department faces because of the EPA’s new rules. After thirty months, coal-burning plants that use containment ponds like More’s Lake must install groundwater monitoring systems. Johanningmeier said that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to install.

“I think in the very, very short term, it won’t make any big difference,” Johanningmeier said about the new rules’ impact on Columbia utility users. “In the intermediate term, it will make a difference.”

The agency’s new rules also require plants to conduct safety assessment tests and determine potential impact if something fails at the containment ponds. It also requires the plants to report those results online and make them public.

The EPA provided both a fact sheet and the full set of rules online.

Article Topic Follows: News

Jump to comments ↓

ABC 17 News Team


ABC 17 News is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content