TVA's environmental record was soiled in 2008 by the nation's worst coal ash spill in history, but John Kammeyer said he's determined to learn from the disaster and keep TVA ahead of pending new regulations.
"Our goal is to try to come out of this as an environmental leader," said Mr. Kammeyer, TVA's vice president for coal combustion products project engineering. "We want to be way ahead of everybody else on this issue."
Even in advance of new federal rules proposed last week to bring more regulation to coal-ash disposal, TVA began engineering work last year and is now preparing bids to replace its wet-ash lagoons with dry storage disposal at a half-dozen plants.
By 2017, TVA wants to end its wet ash storage like that at the Kingston Fossil Plant, where millions of cubic yards of ash spilled into the Emory River out of a ruptured ash lagoon in December 2008.
"My job is to make sure that Kingston never happens again at any other site, that these wet impoundments get closed, and that we have state-of-the-art dry disposal facilities," Mr. Kammeyer said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may require the same thing at all coal-fired power plants within five to seven years.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said last week that, to ensure an ash spill like that in Kingston never happens again, coal ash should be regulated for the first time at the federal level. Currently, coal ash is regulated by state agencies such as the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation or the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Under its strictest proposal, one supported by environmental groups, EPA would regulate toxic ash and slag as hazardous waste, requiring all wet storage methods to be phased out in five years and all lagoons to be capped and shut down within seven years.
The other less-expensive option would regulate coal ash more like household garbage but still require impermeable liners on lagoons and landfills in the future.
COSTLY COAL CONVERSIONS
Mr. Kammeyer said he is confident TVA can meet either of the new EPA standards, although it is still uncertain how much, if any, the stricter standard might add to TVA's projected $1.5 billion to $2 billion expense for converting its ash disposal from wet to dry.
"If EPA determines that ash is to be regulated as a hazardous material, that would require more liners at landfills and it could limit the ability to sell some coal combustion products for reuse," said Jim Roewer, executive director of Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, a coalition of coal plant operators.
TVA and other utilities currently sell about 43 percent of the dry ash produced from coal plants for uses such as road fill or some construction materials. But as more plants convert to dry storage, finding ways to reuse all of the ash could be difficult, especially if EPA classifies the product as hazardous , Mr. Roewer said.
Ms. Jackson said the EPA wants to promote the reuse of dry coal ash in bonded materials such as drywall or Portland cement. Regulators are proposing to designate coal ash as a "special waste."
But Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, an association of electric companies, questions whether consumers will accept products containing what is classified under the hazardous title.
"We are skeptical that just renaming the wastes and trying to provide a carve out will be adequate to protect the beneficial reuse of coal ash," he said.
TVA's EARLY RESPONSE
In the wake of the Kingston spill, the TVA board in August 2009 adopted a plan to make all of its coal plants use dry ash disposal within eight to 10 years.
"We've awarded contracts at Kingston on the wet-to-dry ash conversion and we're in the final process of awarding a contract at Bull Run (near Oak Ridge) to finalize its dry conversion," Mr. Kammeyer said last week. "We're in the process of putting specifications together for four other sites to put dewatering facilities in, which includes Widows Creek."
Six of TVA's 11 coal-fired power plants use a wet fly ash pond like the one that collapsed at the Kingston Fossil Plant. TVA plans to convert the following plants with lagoons to dry ash disposal by 2016:
* Allen, near Gallatin in Middle Tennessee
* Johnsonville near Waverly, Tenn.
* Kingston, near Kingston, Tenn.
* Paradise, in western Kentucky
* Widows Creek, near Stevenson, Ala.
Source: Tennessee Valley Authority
At the Widows Creek Fossil Plant near Stevenson, Ala., TVA estimates it will cost about $200 million for the dry ash conversion and shutdown of the existing lagoons.
While changing its ash disposal methods, TVA is completing the removal this month of more than 3 million cubic yards of coal ash that spilled into the Emory River from the Kingston plant. TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said state and federal regulators will outline how TVA should clean up the land around the river later this month.
But TVA is now a poster child for the dangers of coal ash, one environmental advocate said.
"TVA is to coal ash what BP now is for oil spills," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "TVA is an extension of the federal government and, after the Kingston disaster, TVA needs to go beyond the minimum compliance requirements. We're glad that TVA is moving ahead with dry storage."
Mr. Smith said with the extra costs for the conversion -- and congressional proposals to put a tax on coal carbon emissions -- TVA should consider shutting down some of its oldest coal plants such as John Sevier near Rogersville, Tenn., Johnsonville in West Tennessee and Widows Creek in North Alabama.