The coal ash pond at Vectren's A.B. Brown power plant will soon be shut down by federal law after high levels of contaminants boron, lithium and molybdenum were detected at the site. The work could begin as early as next year to close down the pond and begin removing the ash. (Photo: DENNY SIMMONS / COURIER & PRESS)
The coal ash pond at Vectren's A.B. Brown power plant will soon be shut down by federal law after high levels of contaminants boron, lithium and molybdenum were detected at the site. The work could begin as early as next year to close down the pond and begin removing the ash. (Photo: DENNY SIMMONS / COURIER & PRESS)
EVANSVILLE — Vectren is asking state regulators' permission to add to customer bills the cost of cleaning up the coal ash pond at its A.B. Brown power plant.

The request is included in Vectren's petition to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission filed on Wednesday for approval of plans to excavate and recycle coal ash from the pond.

The petition itself does not say how much the project will cost or how it might impact customers' bills. However, Vectren spokeswoman Natalie Hedde said the project will cost $164 million.

The request is to recover 80 percent of the project's cost by adding it to customer bills separately from Vectren's base rate and spread out over 14 years. That is the span of Vectren's agreement with an unnamed company that will purchase the recovered coal ash.

Recovery of the remaining 20 percent of the costs would be deferred until a general base rate case at a date still to be determined, Hedde said. The earliest that might happen would be around 2023 or 2024, the date for Vectren's next rate case.

Vectren uses the 165-acre pond to dispose of the ash left over from burning coal. The power plant and pond are located in Southeast Posey County near the Ohio River.

Pollution from the coal ash pond, which has no protective liner, is contaminating groundwater with lithium and molybdenum, according to Vectren. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule requires utilities to close down coal ash ponds where groundwater monitoring has found contamination.

The EPA regulates coal ash disposal because the waste can contain a variety of pollutants associated with cancer and other serious health effects, such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals and pollutants.

When coal ash is stored without proper protections, the contaminants can leach into groundwater and potentially get into drinking water sources, posing public health concerns.

A release from Vectren, which is now part of Houston, Texas-based CenterPoint Energy, said the company has already signed a multi-year agreement for the excavation, conversion and recycling of up to six million tons of coal ash from the pond, beginning in 2021.

According to the release: "The company will soon begin construction of the infrastructure needed to transport the coal ash to the Ohio River for transport by the manufacturer that will reuse the ash. The material that can be beneficially reused will be removed from the site, thereby greatly reducing future cost and environmental risk compared to alternatives that would leave all the ash on Vectren’s property."

Vectren's petition to the IURC says removing the coal waste from the pond is more expensive than capping the pond and keeping it in place.

The EPA rule requires utilities with coal ash ponds contaminating groundwater to stop disposing ash in them by October 2020 and start closing them within six months.

Hedde said Vectren will monitor groundwater throughout the closure process and will be required to continue monitoring for at least five years afterward.

Burning coal creates two kinds of combustion waste. Fly ash is captured as it rises up the smokestack and accounts for most of the ash captured in power plants. Bottom ash is a sandy, sludgy waste left at the bottom of the coal-burning boilers.

Since 2009, Vectren has been shipping most of its dry fly ash from A.B. Brown, as well as its F.C. Culley power plant in Warrick County, for use as raw material in cement manufacturing.

All bottom ash, as well as some fly ash, is disposed of in the A.B. Brown pond.
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