TVA is Setting the Industry Standard for Safe Coal Ash Storage

For decades, coal plants helped power economies and communities across our nation. Now, we must work collectively to manage the legacy of those plants in a safe, responsible and comprehensive way.

By Scott Turnbow, TVA Vice President of Civil Projects

Scott Turnbow

At TVA, we are committed to doing just that. We have invested more than $2 billion to date to ensure our processes for storing coal ash are state of the art, including extensive tools for monitoring of groundwater and other technology at all our sites. Our groundwater monitoring data is publicly available on our website continuously to help keep the public informed.

TVA experts in engineering and the environment manage a “coal ash mission control,” also known as the Advanced Technology for Impoundment Monitoring (ATIM), to monitor the stability and operation of our coal ash sites 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The ATIM center is the only one of its kind in the nation. This facility can immediately identify and respond to any coal ash situation before it becomes an issue. It receives real-time data every five minutes from more than 16,000 sensors across the Tennessee Valley. These sensors report on weather patterns, seismic activity and structural stability.

Additionally, TVA uses compaction technology and cutting-edge 3D technology to map each layer of coal ash that is laid into a landfill so that engineers can analyze the safety and stability of each storage site for decades to come.

And as much as possible, we repurpose coal ash by selling the material to companies, which recycle it into products like cement and concrete, and drywall. As much as 35 to 40 percent of the coal ash we produce each year is recycled for beneficial use. That’s millions of tons of coal ash that is not stored in one of our dry storage landfills.

As we consider the future of our sites and decisions surrounding them, we believe that customization is key. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for coal ash management, which is why we invest considerable time studying and examining a number of factors at each coal ash site, such as the science, the geology and the economics. We also coordinate with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) regarding environmental considerations and analysis, as well as regulators in Kentucky and Alabama.

The most important part of this process is hearing from you — our friends and neighbors. We have launched a public outreach effort across the communities we serve to keep everyone informed and engaged on our coal ash storage and management.

We are holding meetings at our sites with our subject matter experts to help everyone better understand our efforts and to answer any questions. And we’re creating independent citizen advisory groups to provide two-way communications in communities that want them. We want everyone to understand and have confidence in our plans for the long-term management of CCR.

The Tennessee Valley is our home. We are committed to being a good steward of the environment and to being a good neighbor. We will continue to invest in the future of safe, reliable, clean and affordable energy that includes the responsible management of coal ash.