Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Joint Commerce & Labor Coal Ash Meeting #3

On December 21, 2018, we met for the third Joint Meeting of the Senate and House Commerce and Labor Committees to focus on coal ash legislation for next session and discuss the report recently issued by Dominion that you can read here:

First, Dominion Resources presented their findings resulting from the study required by my legislation - Senate Bill 807 - from last year's session.
  • There are 11 ponds at four different sites, five have not been closed yet
  • One station (Chesterfield) still burns coal and creates coal ash
  • There are 27 million cubic yards to be disposed of - 1.8 million truckloads or about 300,000 rail cars on 461 acres of ash ponds
  • Dominion believes we have 15 years to close the ponds starting in 2019
They are on track to close six of the 11 ponds as permitted by SB807.  The bill also required them to go out to the markets and obtain proposals on coal ash recycling from cradle to grave including dewatering, removing it, treating it, and selling an end product.  

They summarized the recycling proposals responses as follows:
  • They involve 600-700 trucks per day and/or about 700 railcars per years)
  • Closer in markets used trucks while shipments to far markets involved rail transport
The estimates ranged from a total of $2.345 to $5.642 billion.  Dominion has already spent about $400 million so far on coal ash remediation at the four sites.  About 45-46% of the cash can be recycled based on market demand assumptions.  

Dominion claims there is no impact on groundwater or public health.  I disagree with that - every single pond has been documented to be leaking.  Dominion also testified that they have not fully determined the extent of the leaking because they are still in the process of digging additional wells.

Dominion also insisted that about 80% of coal ash ponds around the country were being capped in place.  However, they also failed to point out that the vast majority of coal ash ponds in the Atlantic Coastal Plain are being either recycled or clean closed (ash hauled away).

The State Corporation Commission testified to a "back of the envelope" estimate of what expensing $6 billion would look like to ratepayers.  They indicated that over twenty years it would cost $282 million per year.  Because Virginia customers pay 78% of Dominion's costs (because some costs are paid by North Carolina customers or others) it leaves about $221 million per year to be carried by Virginia ratepayers.  If you divide that by Dominion's total KW sales of 66 billion per year that leads to about 1/3 a cent per hour which would mean for 1,000 kw hour household, about $3/mo.  

It is important to note that Dominion will need to spend $1.7 billion if we do nothing or about $1/mo. and no one presented an estimate of what the cost to public health would be if these heavy metals continue to accumulate in ground or surface waters.  

A representative from En-Cap It pointed out that there ash disposals method was not considered by Dominion because it was found not to be compliant with EPA rules which they disputed.  They pointed out that they could safely store ash until it was recycled.  

The Southern Environmental Law Center pointed out that costs in other states would suggest that the cost to ratepayers is more likely to be $2 billion if you use the actual costs incurred in other states.  They also pointed out that every site failed the aquifer test which requires any coal ash in an aquifer to be removed because the ash at every site is in a water aquifer.

A representative from the Coal Ash Association also reiterated that the coal ash recycling bid numbers seemed high to them compared with the experience in other states.

I will be introducing legislation this session along with Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and perhaps others to do the following.
  • Prohibit capping ash in place in leaking partially lined ponds
  • Requiring Dominion to maximize coal ash recycling with off-site landfilling as a last resort
  • Requiring the company to use rail transport when feasible
  • Requiring VDOT to conduct a safety assessment and recommend improvements if trucking is necessary
  • Allowing Dominion to recover its costs over 25 years
  • Requiring Dominion to provide free water hookups to affected households and/or well testing, STEM grants to universities and local school systems
I am hopeful the Governor will be supportive as well.  As someone who grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, water quality is an important issue to him.  

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