Big Sandy Plant
Coal Combustion Residuals Monitoring & Reporting
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new rule addressing the handling, storage and disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCRs). CCRs are the materials that remain after coal is burned.
Kentucky Power recently completed the first steps in the new groundwater monitoring program under this rule. Two Big Sandy Plant ash storage sites are included in the CCR monitoring program:
- The bottom ash pond and
- The fly ash pond.
Kentucky Power took a series of groundwater samples at the boundaries of both ash storage sites. We took some samples before the groundwater passed beneath the ash storage sites. (The reports refer to this as up-gradient.) We took other samples after it passed beneath the sites (down-gradient). We used the data to establish baseline levels for 21 different substances in the groundwater. It is important to remember that variations in the level of these substances in groundwater are natural and occur for many reasons.
Moving forward, we will use these baselines to help determine if our ash storage sites are impacting the groundwater. We will watch to see whether there are changes in the amount of these substances before and after the groundwater flows beneath the ash storage sites. We also will watch whether levels of these substances vary from the baselines we observed.
The initial data at Big Sandy Plant show potential groundwater impacts very close to our storage sites. Using appropriate sampling and analysis methods, we found differences in the amounts of boron, calcium, chloride, fluoride, pH, sulfate and total dissolved solids in certain wells before and after the groundwater passed beneath the storage sites. The rule calls these indicator substances. They are used to determine whether additional analysis is needed.
Baseline sampling in some wells showed one or more results for arsenic, beryllium and radium above primary drinking water standards. One or more samples showing a higher concentration of a substance, even above a standard, does not mean that local drinking water is unsafe or that there is any impact from the ash storage site.
We are working to understand what the numbers mean. We will do additional monitoring and analysis to determine if there are groundwater impacts from our storage sites farther from the immediate area.
We are proactively reaching out and meeting with plant neighbors and community leaders to answer questions about the data collected so far and to discuss next steps.
- Kentucky Power will continue to test water from all of these wells twice each year.
- Kentucky Power has hired an outside expert to determine whether there are other potential sources of the substances.
- If Kentucky Power determines that an ash storage site is impacting the groundwater, we will expand monitoring to show whether there are water quality impacts farther away from the storage site.
- If additional monitoring indicates that changes in groundwater quality are coming from our ash storage sites, we will seek public input as we develop a mitigation plan to address these impacts.
Here’s how Kentucky Power conducted the monitoring:
- The bottom ash pond - five monitoring wells,
- The fly ash pond - 10 monitoring wells.
The bottom ash pond is in the process of being closed and the material has been removed to the fly ash pond. The fly ash pond is being closed in place with a cap.
In 2015, Big Sandy Plant provided 30,311 tons of bottom ash for beneficial reuse.
Big Sandy Plant ceased burning coal in 2015. At that time the facility was converted to burn natural gas. As a natural gas-fueled facility, the plant no longer produces CCR material.