Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Waste dumps into coal ash storage ponds after being used to produce electricity. TVA now has 11 coal-fired power plants that produce 60 percent of TVA's electricity.
The head of the Tennessee Valley Authority said Wednesday that electricity users will have to pay nearly $3 billion to clean up and revamp the way coal ash is handled after the Kingston spill, the nation's worst ash spill ever.
"History has caught up with us," TVA President Tom Kilgore said. "Since we've had the largest accident of ash, I want to have the best ash storage from here forward."
Mr. Kilgore pledged to make TVA an industry leader in coal ash disposal by converting storage ponds for wet ash and gypsum -- byproducts of coal burning -- to dry handling methods over the next eight to 10 years at a half dozen TVA plants.
But nine months after the Dec. 22 spill at the Kingston plant, Mr. Kilgore said he isn't ready to dismiss any employees over the incident.
"Kingston is our responsibility, and we've agreed to spend all the money to clean it up right," he said. "I have not been able to find an individual who is culpable to a point that someone should be fired over this."
Internal auditors and outside consultants have criticized the agency for failing to assess the risks of a spill and for not paying enough attention to employee warnings about leaks and potential problems from a half century of ash buildup in Kingston.
Audits also found that TVA managers dismissed preliminary plans for dry ash storage at Kingston seven years ago in favor of the cheaper alternative of building more ash ponds.
Mr. Kilgore said multiple failures led to the Kingston disaster and the agency now is working with management consultants McKinsey & Co. to change the utility's corporate culture.
TVA officials said Thursday they are trying to be more proactive in addressing safety concerns and are developing plans to convert to dry ash disposal at the Kingston, Allen, Gallatin, and Johnsonville plants in Tennessee, Widows Creek in Alabama and the Paradise plant in Kentucky.
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue new rules for coal ash disposal later this year.
Bob Deacy, senior vice president for clean strategies and project development, said a team of engineers is in the United Kingdom this week, studying a zero-emission plant to identify ways to better handle coal combustion products.
"We are out there trying to stay in front to make sure we have the best control technology," he said.
Mr. Deacy estimates TVA will spend from $1.5 billion to $2 billion to convert all of its coal plants to dry ash disposal.
The utility already has spent nearly $230 million at Kingston toward a projected $1.2 billion cost to remove the ash and restore the damaged land and Emory River.
TVA Vice President Anda Ray said one-third of the ash that spilled into the Emory River has been dredged out of the river bottom, and all should be removed by spring.
The complete cleanup is projected to last for up to three more years.