Safe and Smart About Coal Ash

TVA is doing more than ever before to monitor and protect groundwater near its coal ash storage sites, including at the Cumberland Fossil Plant—TVA’s largest coal-fired plant.

Producing 2,470 megawatts of energy, the Cumberland team is serious about delivering on our commitment to provide reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost, helping keep you safe and comfortable in the most extreme temperatures while making possible all of those little conveniences of modern life.

Just as important is TVA’s commitment to the environment, and to the careful long-term management of the coal ash produced at Cumberland, and all of our fossil plants across the Valley.

Studying the Groundwater

TVA is working to develop an Environmental Investigation Plan (EIP) at Cumberland, which will be conducted under the direction of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). The EIP will consider surface water and groundwater on and around the fossil plant site, checking for constituents—such as boron, arsenic, lead, calcium, chloride, fluoride, pH, sulfate, total dissolved solids and certain heavy metals—known to occur naturally in soils, rocks and groundwater as well as in fossil fuels and coal combustion residuals. These constituents were selected as a source of study because higher-than-normal concentrations can indicate groundwater conditions that may require further evaluation.

The study will also look at fish and other living species on and near our fossil sites to see whether and/or how they are influenced by TVA coal ash disposal operations. The result will be a more complete picture of how TVA is interacting with the environment. (It's important to note that public drinking water is safe and is regularly tested by local municipal water providers.)

“TVA cares about the communities we are in, and we have been monitoring conditions and making course corrections for as long as we’ve been burning coal,” says Shawn Rudder, manager of Waste Permitting and Compliance at TVA. “We will continue to look further into the environmental conditions on and around our fossil plants, and make changes, working with TDEC to conduct necessary research and to translate any findings into positive action quickly.”

Decisions Based on Science

Though TVA has been monitoring surface water and groundwater at Cumberland for many years—and regularly sharing results with its stakeholders—it is working with TDEC to install an enhanced network of new monitoring wells around CCR sites at Cumberland. Findings will help TVA determine the best method for final disposal of CCRs in compliance with EPA and TDEC regulations.

Already, a wet-to-dry conversion plan for CCRs at Cumberland is in place, and complete for gypsum and fly ash. A bottom ash dewatering tank-based solution is scheduled for 2019. New information may lead to new solutions.

“We intend to use the information we’ve gleaned from our studies with TDEC to guide current and future decisions about CCR storage,” says Scott Turnbow, general manager of Strategy & Engineering at TVA. “We are putting in the legwork to thoroughly study the situation, and will rely on science to tell us what to do next. Along with TDEC we’ll be making the decisions that comply with federal and state regulations, yes—but we’ll also be working to do what’s best for the environment and the communities we serve. Our motto, which hangs over the entrance to every fossil plant, is ‘Built for the people.’ We take that very much to heart.”

At the Cumberland Fossil Plant, approximately 70 percent of the fly ash is sold for beneficial reuse, and that the rest is dry-stacked in a permitted on-site landfill. Approximately 90 percent of the plant's gypsum continues to be sold for beneficial reuse to an adjacent wallboard plant. 

Public input is an important part of the process. In April, TVA will share specifics about how the public can provide input on the EIP. There will also be an open house for the public to come and meet TVA staff personally involved with the EIP. Findings from the EIP study will be also be made public on TVA’s website at the following address: https://www.tva.com/ccr.

Six additional fossil sites will follow in Cumberland’s wake, developing and implementing Environmental Investigation Plans of their own. These include Allen, Bull Run, Johnsonville, John Sevier, Kingston and Watts Bar. 

The CCR Rule

TVA adheres to the Environmental Protection Agency’s CCR Rule, which in 2015 established technical requirements for CCR landfills and surface impoundments under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the nation’s primary law for regulating solid waste. Recently, the federal government has moved to place oversight and enforcement of CCR mandates under state control. Want to know more about the CCR Rule or about how TVA handles coal ash residuals at any of its fossil-fired plants? Visit the CCR Rule Compliance Data and Information page.