The coal ash ponds at Possum Point
The coal ash ponds at Possum Point

By Peter Galuszka

So what’s the deal with dumping coal ash and Dominion Virginia Power?

A story in the Associated Press that is getting wide attention suggests that the utility may be consolidating five coal ash dumping ponds at its Possum Point generating plant into one that may or may not be properly lined.

If the lining is inadequate, then the coal ash which contains such dangerous chemicals as arsenic and selenium could leach into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Dominion claims it is in compliance with all current state and federal rules although stricter ones are due soon. So why not wait for final rules and bury the coal ash in a proper way? Dominion thinks that would be too expensive, critics say, and it is making its move now.

Dominion announced recently that it was closing nine coal ash ponds at Bremo Bluffs, Chesapeake, Chesterfield and Possum Point. Some of the ponds were opened in the 1940s. Bremo has converted from coal to gas, as has Possum Point. Chesapeake is closing completely.

Just to quash the potential argument, these closings were announced long before the fossil fuel industry started their “War on Coal” propaganda campaign and is doing so for cost reasons. Possum Point switched from coal in 2003.

Coal ash is messy and can be deadly. Its problems were underscored when 50,000 tons of coal ash stored by Duke in North Carolina broke free and splashed into the Dan River. That polluted rivershore into Virginia. Duke ended up with $102 million or so in fines. Virginia fined Duke a puny $2.5 million.

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18 responses to “What’s the Deal with Dominion and Coal Ash?”

  1. Thanks for covering this. Senator Puller and I wrote a letter to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality about this problem which you can read here:

    In North Carolina, their regulator required removal of all coal ash to lined landfills and we believe that’s a better solution than capping ash and leaving it in place just yards from Quantico Creek and the Potomac River.

    We’re pleased that Dominion is taking steps to get the ash out of known unlined ponds, but believe they can do more to ensure that this does not become a Superfund site decades from now.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      The North Carolina solution seems sensible.

  2. larryg Avatar

    Whether it’s coal ash, or solar or a pipeline – Dominion conducts itself as if it’s not only not the public’s business but none of their business.

    I find DEQs response to the consolidation of the coal ash ponds – typical of how the State deals with Dominion – i.e. pretty much leave them alone unless something gets out of hand.

    ” “Dominion is acting according to permits they got in the past, so they’re in compliance with the current rules and regulations,” DEQ Director David K. Paylor said in an interview Thursday. “The jury’s still out on what final closure requirements Virginia will have for them.”

    I’m not expecting nor wanting DEQ to say something like ” we’re watching them like a hawk because they need to be watched”… nor am I expecting some big deal regulatory lockdown… but it would be helpful if DEQ said something like ” coal ash has been a problem of late we are ensuring that
    we are not going to create more ash pond issues.

    In Dominion’s defense – they have generated a report:


    I’m a little surprised that it’s cheaper to transport coal-ash to a different location than to re-mediate on site and perhaps would like to know why.

    and to further give credit – Dominion , does an exceptional job of providing reliable and continuous power – and to quickly react to outages and weather outages.

    but other issues, solar, pipelines, coal ash , and the “war on coal”, CPP, – it’s a paradox.. how can they be so good dealing with the public at the consumer level and so awful at these other levels?

    The fact that Amazon and others building solar farms had to build in Va near state lines reflects on not only Dominion but Virginia’s attitude towards attracting such business. It’s other businesses telling Virginia that they’re NOT friendly towards business..

    Imagine if GOOGLE or AMAZON could have co-located solar farms near Loudoun instead.

    I think Dominion actually works against their own self interests sometimes and Virginia is screwed up also when the default environment is that Dominion can only prosper if it sells MORE electricity. That totally screws up where we should be headed.

  3. “If the lining is inadequate…”

    That strikes me as the key question. What kind of lining does Dominion have in place now and what level of surety does it provide?

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Why would one bother to write an article on this subject without doing the work to enlighten the reader as to the answer to this question on which the value and substance of the entire article depends?

      1. larryg Avatar

        how would one be so enlightened if the information was not provided by Dominion or DEQ?

  4. larryg Avatar

    re: ” Dominion can only prosper if it sells MORE electricity.”

    it’s actually worse than that – not only do they need to sell more – but they need to prevent others from competing to sell electricity also.

    we’re also missing another piece in that Dominion ultimately will pass on the costs for dealing with the coal ash – to rate-payers. Yes.. they’ll have to adjust the paperwork to show that it’s paid for by the Corporation and it’s investors but in the end because they are guaranteed a minimum profit – there is no real incentive for them to do – what is in the best interests of Virginians and ratepayers, in fact the opposite – to essentially bill the ratepayers for how they choose to handle coal-ash – whether it’s the most cost-effective way or not.

    I think the public is entitled to a justification for the choices Dominion has made and further – the public has the right to make Dominion do it a different way if they disagree with Dominion’s choice.

    The idea that all Dominion has to do is “inform” DEQ .. or at least that perception .. needs to change.

    The combination of an investor-owned utility that has a govt-granted monopoly as well as a guaranteed profit basically does not protect ratepayers from being turned into de-facto subsidizers of investor profits even to pay more for wrong and costly decisions..

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      For a utility to recover the capital costs of an investment, it must be used and useful in the utility’s business and reasonable in cost. A utility cannot include the costs of a $250,000 truck if similar trucks cost $100,000. Expenses must be reasonable in amount and in kind. If trucking coal ash to lined ponds is a reasonable solution to disposal, reasonable costs will be permitted. If Dominion wanted to buy rockets and send the coal ash to outer space, it’s unlikely the costs would be recoverable from ratepayers.

      The VSCC staff reviews investments and expenses and likely flags and challenges those that seem unreasonable. Then they present their case to the Commissioners who make the final decision, subject to judicial review. And, of course, any individual or organization with standing can intervene in a Commission proceeding and make its own challenges.

      1. larryg Avatar

        Sorry, if you’re depending on the VSCC to protect ratepayers from wrong decisions by DOminion on stranded investments – I don’t have your confidence.

        it’s not about coal ash verses rockets. It’s about coal ash in pits with inadequate liners or a strategy of creating larger coal ash repositories versus other choices.

        Most proposals like this if coming from govt – like a proposed road – will show alternatives considered and pros/cons of the alternatives so that an informed decision can be made. In Dominion’s case that decision is left to them without a real public participation process.

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          So, Larry, send comments to, or intervene in, a Dominion proceeding before the VSCC. Raise the issues you believe are pertinent.

  5. I agree with Peter and Scott Surovell that the coal ash impoundments should be handled properly to minimize damage to the environment. Unfortunately until now the public has had little leverage as the EPA/Congress has historically allowed coal ash to be disposed as a non-hazardous substance (which was an obvious mistake). The other issue here is: what do the new EPA coal ash regs say about pre-existing impoundments (grandfathered?) versus going forward practices. But the activity by Dominion seems to suggest Dominion has been given a regulatory opportunity to deal with the problem more cost-effectively now.

    1. larryg Avatar

      TBILL makes the case much better than I did. These are not decisions that Dominion alone or even with SCC oversight should be making and DEQ appears to be arms length…

  6. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    One more reason to start up work on my rural hospitals idea. What’s that you say? We build a series of small but functional hospitals in the southwest and southside of the state and staff them with doctors and nurses who are state employees? Why state employees you ask? Because as government employees they’ll be eligible for student loan forgiveness after 10 years and won’t have to worry about massive debt should they choose to start a private practice and in the meantime an underserved region will get quality healthcare.

    What does that have to do with coal ash, though? One of the few positive properties of coal ash is that when added to concrete it makes a superior product while encasing the dangerous substances. If we throw up more buildings and require concrete using coal ash then we diminish the existing supply.

    I’ll be forming my PAC soon. I expect you all to give generously.

    1. larryg Avatar


      We have a 3rd party coal-burning dispatch plant in our area – with the attendant coal-ash disposal issue.

      I think we’ve gone through 3 or 4 different disposal approaches.

      1. pile up in ponds.
      2. give or sell to put in cinder blocks
      3. – put on trains and return to pit mines being reclaimed
      4. – bury in co-located landfill (with liner).

      I think – certainly – Dominion could address these options and show the cost tradeoffs …etc… but if no one is going to require them to – then they’ll do nothing more than what DEQ requires and it appears they’re not real interested ….

      As to the clinic idea – why not do that not only in rural Va but inner city and anywhere there are populations of people who now rely on govt aid?

      and why not – with those clinics ally them with community colleges so the staff can be heavy on the physician assistant, nurse-practitioner side and configure the clinics themselves as managed care organizations that can handle most special needs – like diabetes management, kidney dialysis, lung impairments, pregnancy, etc.. ??

      If we can orient ourselves to look to provide cost-effective care with tax money instead of trying to figure out how to run away from the costs..

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Reed i am not paid to do this. Jim is paid by dominion. Does that answer your snarky question?

  8. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    No, it does not.

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Reed. With all due respect $&@” off

  10. larryg Avatar

    Well at least Reed didn’t call for a vote to expel you like he’s done before for others!


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