Thursday, January 8, 2009

TVA Coal-Ash Spill: In the End, Consumers Will Pay the Freight

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2009 at 4:27 PM

click to enlarge TVA_20coal_20ash_20spill-thumb-400x210.jpg

A Senate hearing on Tennessee's toxic fly ash spill took place today, and a coupla' Roane County residents got to go to D.C. One of them even brought a Mason jar full of the gray muck coating their property, which they presented to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

There was nothing particularly groundbreaking said at the hearing. But some of the testimony got me thinking about the way costs are passed from TVA to the customers by the decisions they've made. Let's start with the improved scrubbers on the smokestacks of the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant.

Now who's gonna argue that's a bad thing? Those smokestacks are throwing far fewer pollutants into the air these days, improving air quality in the area. But here's what will create the real problem for Harriman's and Kingston's residents, their children and their children's children: While those scrubbers were scrubbing emissions, the captured pollutants--the arsenic, the barium, the mercury--had to go somewhere. So they ended up in the infamous fly ash pond.

"If they don't go out of the stack, they're going somewhere," said one witness...

The trade-off was cleaner air for more dangerously concentrated waste. When they examined their method for disposing of the byproduct--wet disposal to keep the ash from blowing--a more environmentally sound alternative was a dry disposal method. Though the likelihood that some could be caught in the wind is higher, a dry ash facility would prevent leaching of heavy metals into the soil by using a liner. And by keeping the ash dry, water wouldn't compromise the integrity of the holding tank. The cost of going "dry" in this case was $25 million. TVA balked at the figure. This cost wasn't passed onto the customer.

Now we have the spill. It will cost untold millions--one expert put it at no less than $100 million--to clean this mess up, to take care of displaced families, not to mention the lawsuits already in the clerk's office and the many that are sure to follow. These costs, reports say, will be passed on to the rate payers. TVA Chairman Bill Sansom told the Associated Press as much yesterday.

"This is going to get into electric rates sooner or later," Sansom said. "We haven't even thought about going to Washington for it."

Yeah, right. Congressman Zach Wamp (R) is already talking about getting the feds to look at this disaster as a Katrina-style event, because large amounts of rain contributed to the spill. Maybe so. But for the reasons listed above, TVA should get stuck with the bill. Then again, so will its customers. No winners here.

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