Santee Cooper coal ash removal years ahead of schedule

An excavator removes coal ash from the ash pond at Santee Cooper’s Jefferies power generating station outside Moncks Corner in February 2014.

Environmentalists on Monday praised Moncks Corner-based electric utility Santee Cooper for its efforts to remove coal ash from unlined lagoons at its closed Grainger facility along the Waccamaw River in Conway.

The Southern Environmental Law Center said Santee Cooper is four years ahead of schedule on a coal ash cleanup plan the two sides negotiated in 2013 to settle a pollution-related lawsuit. The settlement calls for all of the coal ash at Grainger to be removed by 2023, although Santee Cooper is on target to finish the project by 2019.

Santee Cooper also is removing coal ash from its Jefferies generating station in Moncks Corner and plans to start removing coal at the Winyah station near Georgetown later this year. The coal ash is being recycled for use by cement and concrete manufacturers.

SEFA Corp. is building a recycling plant at the Winyah facility to handle coal ash there and from Santee Cooper’s other sites. The recycling facility should open later this year, and Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said, “We expect our ash reuse numbers to increase even more significantly at that point.”

Coal ash lagoons at the sites will be restored as wetlands.

“Santee Cooper aggressively pursued innovative opportunities to empty our ash ponds at Winyah, Jefferies and Grainger stations through recycling, or beneficially reusing, the ash,” said Lonnie Carter, the state-owned utility’s chief executive officer. “I’m pleased we were able to come up with solutions that provide environmental and economic benefits and are also cost-effective for our customers.”

Santee Cooper removed 265,145 tons of coal ash from the Jefferies and Grainger plants in 2014.

“Santee Cooper’s progress shows that coal ash can be removed from dangerous unlined, riverside lagoons and properly recycled or stored dry in lined landfills away from waterways,” Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. Holleman represented conservation groups in their lawsuit against Santee Cooper. “Other utilities, including Duke Energy in South and North Carolina, should follow Santee Cooper’s lead.”

Ulla Reeves, spokeswoman for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Santee Cooper’s efforts “show the kind of leadership we need from utilities to protect communities and rivers.”

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_