Ameren Missouri overcame another hurdle this week in its quest to build a coal ash landfill at its Labadie plant, but it still needs a construction permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
“I can’t say when we would receive that construction permit,” said Warren Wood, Ameren’s vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs. “Once we have that permit we would be moving ahead with construction in anticipation of having that facility operating by 2016.”
But for now Ameren officials are pleased that the Missouri Public Service Commission has granted approval to expand the boundaries of its Labadie Energy Center for the proposed 166-acre coal ash landfill.
“It appears favorable; we haven’t finalized our review,” Wood said of the PSC decision. “The facts remain this is the right thing to do for our customers, this is the responsible thing to do for the environment.”
The landfill would store the ash byproduct that is generated after coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is burned to generate electricity.
Meanwhile, the leader of a local environmental group that has been fighting the proposed landfill for several years says an appeal to the PSC ruling could be filed. Patricia Schuba said her group, the Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO), plans to discuss the possibility of an appeal with the Sierra Club.
However, Wood said the PSC “followed the requirements of the law” in terms of approving Ameren’s request to expand the boundaries of its power plant for the landfill.
LEO members say they are concerned that building a coal ash landfill in a floodplain of the Missouri River could lead to groundwater contamination and threaten public health.
Schuba balked at the PSC’s conclusion that expanding the energy center for the landfill would “promote the public interest.”
She said she would not find it to be in the public’s interest if there are concerns about groundwater contamination and the destruction of farmland.
The construction of the proposed landfill should not move forward until more is known about a proposed new Environmental Protection Agency coal ash rule, Schuba asserted.
She also pointed out that LEO still has a lawsuit pending in the Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis challenging Franklin County’s land-use regulations over the landfill.
Also, LEO plans to appeal to circuit court a county zoning board’s ruling last month that the landfill complies with county zoning regulations.
The PSC said Ameren sufficiently studied other possible sites and found that transporting the material to alternate locations would have been more expensive.
Moreover, a study commissioned by Ameren stated that often the best place to put a public nuisance, such as the landfill, is next to another public nuisance (the power plant).
Transporting the coal ash to an off-site location would also cause 160 to 200 trucks per day to travel through Labadie, creating a hazard, the PSC said.
Wood said the proposed landfill is a good design since it will transition away from storing coal ash in ponds and instead use a “dry, state-of-the-art concrete-like storage approach.”
In fact, he said the proposed Ameren landfill design is using the EPA’s recommendation in terms of the best approach to store the coal ash.
The PSC agreed that the coal ash stored in the landfill would “harden into what is essentially a large block of concrete . . .”
That means it would not be susceptible to an earthquake, the PSC added.
Ameren officials also say the landfill would have a liner system and groundwater monitoring wells. And it would have a flood protection barrier built higher than the 500-year flood level, the PSC stated.
As for the groundwater concerns raised by LEO, the PSC said the aquifer that would be under the coal ash landfill does not supply drinking water wells.
This week, Wood said the landfill’s impact on customer rates would be “much less than one-quarter of 1 percent.”
The landfill would be built in several phases with Phase 1 costing $27 million. Ameren officials have previously said that costs of future phases had not been determined.
The landfill site would be 813 acres, but the disposal area would only be about 166 acres, divided into four cells, providing enough storage space for about 24 years.
About 550,000 tons of coal ash is generated each year at the Labadie Energy Center.
Some landfill opponents said Ameren was not qualified to operate a landfill based on previous seeps from an unlined coal ash pond.
The PSC agreed that such seeps did occur but that Ameren took action to eliminate the problem.
Schuba said she was surprised that the PSC did not impose any conditions for Ameren to have adequate insurance to cover the cost of a disaster that could occur with the landfill so the remediation costs won’t fall on ratepayers.
But the PSC stated in its ruling that Ameren is self-insured and has other insurance for risks associated with coal ash landfill operations.