The regulations surrounding coal combustion residual (CCR) management and effluent limitation guidelines (ELG) have been disruptive for coal-fired power plants for years. As changes continue to be made and new rules continue to appear — such as the proposed CCR Permitting Rule that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established in December 2019 — one thing has remained true through the commotion: Plants can’t afford to wait.
Starting the closure process without a full picture of the regulations may seem premature; however, a major shift was announced with the November 2019 release of EPA’s “A Holistic Approach to Closure Part A.” Though not fully holistic, as Part B was just released in February 2020, Part A sets requirements for the majority of plants. And the likelihood of those requirements changing for the better is fairly low. Even under the current administration, compliance deadlines have accelerated and extensions must now be approved by the EPA rather than being self-implementing, all while the EPA insists that utilities should have started these projects years ago regardless of the lack of finalized regulations.
Under Part A, aggressive timelines have been set to begin closure or retrofitting for all unlined surface impoundments (regardless of groundwater status) and those impoundments that failed the aquifer separation criteria. The Part B rule allows for alternative liner demonstrations for units that are not leaking and that meet these criteria. However, that option will likely be available to less than 15% of the impoundments in the fleet. Part B also adds additional reporting requirements and steps for closure by removal — and each time these rules are revised the moving target is getting smaller.
So, What Now?
Even in uncertainty, the strong recommendation is to take action, even if that action is simply putting together a preliminary design, gathering the necessary data to support detailed design and establishing a thorough compliance plan. Enough information is available to begin the process of determining how to work within the footprint of a plant’s pond and/or site and what equipment is necessary.
We are working with several clients right now that are evaluating Part A requirements and establishing detailed schedules in order to submit extension requests, which are proposed to be due in June 2020. The thought behind this proactive approach is the ability to be prepared when the rules are finalized — and to be on the front end of that review cycle for potentially faster approvals.
In addition to being ahead of the industrywide pack that must comply, these active planners are also allowing more time to get budget approvals for these lengthy projects. A typical bottom ash conversion project can last 2.5 to three years — treating non-CCR flows in restricted site footprints can take even longer — and we’re 3.5 years from the latest proposed compliance deadline. So, a detailed plan with substantial milestones addressed, from the documented evaluation of all options to being out to bid for equipment, can provide a valuable narrative for pending extension requests and any potential funding hurdles or permitting obstacles that remain for your projects.
Requirements may be ever changing, but it is still important to stay up to date on where the rules stand currently. Explore detailed breakdowns of the CCR and ELG standards.