Georgia Power To Close Atlanta-Area Coal Ash Ponds Within 2 Years

John Amis, File / AP Photo

Georgia Power will close a dozen coal ash ponds, including four inside the perimeter, in the next two years. The company plans to close all 29 of its ponds eventually; most within 10 years.

Coal ash is a byproduct from burning coal for electricity. It can contain toxic materials, and there have been catastrophic failures of coal ash ponds in other states in recent years. There have also been instances of it leaking into groundwater.

Georgia Power’s decision to close its ponds follows regulations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently established, Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said.

“Everything we’re doing is about compliance, and it’s also about balance and ensuring reliable electricity for customers,” he said. “We have to ensure that we have reliable electricity for customers throughout the construction process.”

The utility will handle the coal ash differently, depending on the site, Hawkins said. At Plant McDonough, near Smyrna, Georgia Power plans to take the coal ash out of the ponds it’s currently in, but still store it on-site. In other places, the utility will either leave the coal ash in place and cover it up, or remove it completely, and send it to a landfill.

Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he favors the landfill approach.

“No landfill is perfect,” he said. “But here we have a horrible situation existing at rivers throughout Georgia and other states in the Southeast, and we need at least this basic level of protection.”

Georgia Power will release more details about its closure plans for all its coal ash ponds in October.