Arsenic detected at Georgia Power plant in Effingham County - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Arsenic detected at Georgia Power plant in Effingham County

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

Ground water testing at Georgia Power's Plant McIntosh near Rincon has some people concerned about the future of coal energy in the area.

A recent study revealed a high level of arsenic in one of the plant's test wells, but the company says you shouldn't be worried about it affecting groundwater.

According to the company, although the arsenic level was triple the standard, they say the leak was contained to their property and did not spread beyond that. Plus, they told me this chemical leak was only detected at one of the eleven test wells at the site.

"I understand that groundwater moves slowly, so we test in various locations. We install these monitoring wells based on geology and the local conditions,” said John Kraft, Georgia Power.

This is the first of 8 rounds of testing Georgia Power will conduct to determine background levels and collect additional. Even after all the ash ponds are closed across the state, they will still have more than 500 monitoring wells in operation.

Based on these latest tests, Georgia Power says they caught the leak before it could spread to the community.

"I just enjoy living out here,” said Frank Brown, who lives near the plant.

Brown has lived down the road from the plant for about 14 years. He told me he's never worried about living so close.

"No, it really wasn't no concern for me, because I didn't even think about it,” he said.

But WTOC did speak with several other neighbors off-camera who said they were worried about the potential that a leak could spread to their ground water.

The company is still investigating the exact cause of the contamination, but there's already a spotlight on coal-fired power plants like Plant McIntosh.

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new standards for handling coal ash, which means Georgia Power will close its 29 ash ponds around the state. Nearly all of their ash ponds will be permanently closed in under 10 years, with 12 of the 29 across Georgia closing in the next two years. within the next three years. The project is an estimated $2 billion undertaking.

"The ash in those ash ponds will be completely removed and stored in a permanent, lined and monitored landfill that's away from the river, from any water sources,” said Kraft.

"By closing the ash ponds, we're really taking into account what the true costs of coal are,” said Ian Karra, Sierra Club.

At a Sierra Club meeting Tuesday night, there was discussion about the future of energy use in the Savannah area. Environmental advocates here consider the closing of these ash ponds a small victory.

"We know that coal is the most costly form of energy both for the environment and for our pocketbooks. By moving away from coal, we can transition to cleaner and safer forms of energy, like solar, that are creating jobs and creating new tax revenue in our communities,” said Karra.

Georgia Power said moving completely to renewable energy sources would not allow them to provide power to customers 24/7 at this point. However, they are expanding their renewable energy programs under their proposed 20-year energy plan.

The state's Public Service Commission is set to vote on that plan at the end of this month.

Also, as part of their efforts to expand in the renewable energy sector, Georgia Power’s 30-megawatt solar farms are nearing completion at Fort Stewart and at Kings Bay Naval Sub Base, near the Florida-Georgia border.

As for the environmental activists at Tuesday’s meeting, they hope to one day see a total shift to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

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