Alabama has coal ash ponds at 9 locations

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Utilities operate coal ash retention ponds at nine locations in Alabama and all have passed inspection since a retention pond in east Tennessee spilled more than a billion gallons of gray ash.

Alabama Power Co. has ponds at its six coal-fired steam plants stretching from Gadsden to the Mobile area.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has ponds at its two coal-fired plants in north Alabama.

The ninth location is operated by PowerSouth Energy Cooperative at its Lowman Power Plant in Leroy in southwest Alabama.

Spokesmen for the three utilities said the Alabama ponds were inspected by utility employees after the TVA spill and no problems were found.

The state environmental agency, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, reports that the nine locations are the only ones in Alabama.

The department inspects discharges from the ponds that flow into Alabama waters and has requirements to make sure the ponds have adequate capacity to receive large amounts of rain without overflowing. The department does that by regulating the amount of
space between the top of the pond's contents and the top of the
retaining walls, department spokesman Jerome Hand said.

Tennessee's spill of coal ash occurred after rainy, freezing weather.

Coal ash results from burning coal in the power plants. Water is used to capture small particles of ash to keep it from going up smoke stacks. Then the watery mix is stored in ponds. The ash is periodically dredged from the ponds and used to make concrete or to build roadbeds.

TVA's Kingston Steam Plant, about 35 miles west of Knoxville, Tenn., experienced an environmental disaster Dec. 26 when a billion gallons of coal ash broke through a retention pond dike made of ash and clay. The deluge spread over about 300 acres, destroying three houses, displacing a dozen families. There were no serious injuries.

TVA spokesman John Moulton said Tuesday the utility's ponds at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson and the Colbert Fossil Plant in Tuscumbia are inspected regularly and were inspected again after the spill. "They are all in good shape right now," he said.

Alabama Power, the state's largest electric utility, operates coal ash retention ponds at its Greene County Steam Plant near Demopolis, Gadsden Steam Plant near Gadsden, Miller Steam Plant near Birmingham, Gorgas Steam Plant near Tuscaloosa, Barry Steam Plant north of Mobile, and Gaston Steam Plant in Shelby County, company spokesman Pat Wylie said.

Wylie said Alabama Power uses earthen walls for its retaining ponds.

Workers from the utility's parent company, the Southern Co., inspect the ponds at least every two years with the same thorough review they give hydroelectric dams. Alabama Power workers on site also check the ponds daily for signs of land shifting, animal burrowing or anything else that could indicate a problem, Wylie said.

Wylie said Alabama Power has never had a spill like the one in east Tennessee, but the it caused the utility to analyze its procedures.

At PowerSouth, spokesman Mark Ingram said the two retaining ponds in Leroy use earthen walls that are inspected regularly. Additional inspections after the Tennessee spill "found no issues," he said Tuesday.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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