Kingston – A Legacy of Promises Kept

When a coal ash impoundment at Kingston Fossil Plant ruptured 10 years ago, TVA responded immediately — and made a commitment to the Kingston community to restore the area to as good or better as it ever was.

December 22, 2008 is a date that changed TVA forever and and impacted the entire power industry. Early that morning, around 1 a.m., a coal ash impoundment at Kingston Fossil Plant ruptured, sending millions of cubic yards of coal ash onto nearby properties and into surrounding waterways. TVA’s response was immediate.

“That morning at dawn, TVA employees were at the site and in the community doing what we could to make sure everyone was safe and had what they needed,” said Katie Kline, who was TVA’s community relations manager at the time, and was at Kingston the morning of December 22.

Shortly after, TVA’s then-CEO Tom Kilgore made the commitment that TVA would restore the community to as good as or better than it was before the spill. We spent six years and more than $1.1 billion, and we honored that commitment.

“We removed the ash from around the failed impoundment, dried out the ash and covered it with layers of liner, clay and soil, and surrounded the impoundment with a slurry wall down to the bedrock,” explained Jodie Birdwell, TVA’s general manager of CCR (coal combustion residuals) programs.

Craig Zeller was project site manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, with oversight of the Kingston project. He visited the area in December for the first time in three years, and reflected on the six-year effort. “One of the rewarding things about this project is all the people that were involved in making it happen. It really was a team effort. It looks great out there now.”

Leading the Way for CCR Handling and Storage

In 2009, TVA committed to eliminating wet storage of coal ash and CCR at Kingston and all of its coal ash storage sites. That was six years before the federal CCR Rule was enacted, which now governs how all utilities handle and store CCR. The conversion from wet to dry is complete at Kingston and is ongoing at our other fossil sites.

Since the cleanup ended in 2015, TVA has invested more than $140 million in additional projects — more than $330 million total since 2009 — to eliminate wet storage of coal ash and other coal combustion residuals at Kingston. Additional projects at Kingston include a $51 million state-of-the-art facility to dewater bottom ash so that the ash can be stored dry. In early 2018, TVA completed the closure of the former stilling pond, and is in the process of changing how it handles water used in the process of burning coal and creating electricity. 

Just this year, TVA’s Kingston Water Quality Improvement Program won the Grand Award in the Environmental Category at the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Tennessee, 2018 Engineering Excellence Awards. The award represents TVA’s excellence in achieving its commitment to “go dry” at Kingston by installing facilities that dewater coal ash; filter the water; and allow for the dry placement of coal ash in a lined, state-of-the-art landfill.

TVA is also using keeping an eye on its CCR at Kingston and every site using a state-of-the-art monitoring system, tied in to a command center in Chattanooga, where real-time data about groundwater, ground movement and other factors is collected and available at any time at the touch of a button, even on a mobile phone.

Keeping Ash Out of the Landfill

TVA continues to look for ways to keep ash and gypsum out of landfills, by marketing CCR for beneficial use. At Kingston, TVA sells approximately 75 percent of the dry fly ash produced and 50 percent of the gypsum for beneficial reuse. Gypsum is a result of the chemical process in the air emissions control system. In 2017, TVA sold more than 100,000 tons of fly ash from Kingston, which is used in more than 75 concrete plants across five states. That amounts to more than 1.3 million cubic yards of concrete just from Kingston fly ash in 2017.

The American Coal Ash Association encourages the beneficial use of CCR for materials like concrete, asphalt, roofing shingles and wallboard. The ACAA also supports the EPA classification of coal ash as non-hazardous solid waste, despite the presence of heavy metals, which they say are in concentrations so low “they would not adversely affect drinking water quality.

"TVA should be commended for steps it has taken over the past decade not only to improve ash handling and storage, but to increase the amount of material that is beneficially used," said Thomas Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association. "Substantially all of the synthetic gypsum produced by the Kingston Plant's scrubbers is now beneficially used in making cement and wallboard. Furthermore, TVA's move to dry ash handling at Kingston has improved the marketability of fly ash produced there. Using these materials significantly improves the performance and sustainability of building products while keeping the materials out of landfills."

CCR products from Kingston support hundreds of jobs in the local concrete industry. Joe Fowler, General Manager of Ready Mix USA, which employs more than 140 people in Knoxville, Tennessee, says fly ash is an important part of their concrete product. “The fly ash produced at Kingston is an excellent quality,” Fowler said. “Having a close, reliable source is vitally important to us.”

Wesley Blalock, General Manager of Blalock Ready Mix in Sevierville, Tennessee, added that fly ash from Kingston plays “a vital role in our supply chain, providing us with quality material that exceeds the expectations of our customer base.” Blalock employs more than 100 people in east Tennessee.

Environmental Monitoring

The Kingston Fossil Plant is one of the most heavily monitored sites in the country. A network of monitors around the site provides information on groundwater, movement of material and other factors to make sure the CCR stays where it belongs. Following the federal CCR Rule in 2015, TVA and other utilities are required to post annual reports of monitoring results at CCR storage sites, including Kingston.

TVA prepared its initial reports in January 2018 and posted them in March on our public website here. The testing showed the presence of arsenic and other materials above background levels in monitoring wells ONSITE at Kingston Fossil Plant. This does NOT mean there is an issue with groundwater at, or beyond, the site. TVA is in compliance with the permits issued. According to the CCR Rule, the initial results require further testing. TVA is in the process of conducting those tests, and results will be posted according to the schedule in the CCR Rule, in March 2019.

What’s Next?

TVA will continue adding to existing monitoring data with a new environmental investigation plan beginning early next year. The work is being done under a TDEC order and will include TVA’s CCR storage sites in Tennessee, including Kingston. TVA will collect additional data on groundwater, surface water, and other areas that could be potentially affected by storage of CCR.

Our commitment to Roane County and the people we serve there began when the Kingston Fossil Plant opened in 1955. We reaffirmed that commitment on the morning of Dec. 22, 2008, and it continues today.

Partnerships Count

TVA has partnered with the Roane County community in various ways since 2008, including providing $43 million to Roane County governments — $32 million of which went to schools — and investing more than $60 million in other projects like water, sewer and road improvements. In addition, TVA licensed tracts of land to Roane County for a sports complex, for a proposed volunteer fire department on Swan Pond Road and for a proposed emergency management complex.