Firm will repurpose ash ponds

Landfill-like site at former Cobb plant to become natural wetlands.
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Consumers Energy again has contracted out-of-state professionals to help it move toward its zero-coal goal by 2040.

Charah Solutions Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky-based provider of environmental and maintenance services to the power generation industry, entered an agreement with Consumers Energy to close the B.C. Cobb Generating Facility’s ash ponds previously owned by the Michigan utility and repurpose them as natural wetlands.

As part of the agreement, Charah Solutions, through its subsidiary Muskegon Environmental Redevelopment Group LLC, will take ownership of the ash ponds during the closure process of the former B.C. Cobb site in Muskegon.

An ash pond, also called a coal ash basin or surface impoundment, is an engineered structure used at fossil fuel power stations for the disposal of two types of coal combustion products: bottom ash and fly ash. The pond is used as a landfill to prevent the release of ash into the atmosphere.

Upon completion of this specific major remediation and reclamation project, the B.C. Cobb ash ponds will be returned to natural wetland areas, after which ownership will be returned to Consumers.

“We are pleased to work with Charah Solutions, a proven leader in environmental and maintenance services to the utility industry, to safely and beneficially reuse the material and return the ponds to natural wetland areas,” said Dennis Dobbs, Consumers Energy vice president of enterprise project management, environmental and services. “This innovative project reduces the environmental risk and costs for Consumers Energy and its customers while protecting and enhancing the environment.”

The coal combustion residual materials will be excavated and reused as necessary fill material in Consumers Energy’s licensed J.C. Weadock landfill in Essexville, located at the former J.C. Weadock Generating Station site.

“Charah brought us this creative solution to reuse that bottom ash,” Dobbs said. “This way we won’t have to use native soil.”

The Cobb coal-fired power plants, along with the J.R. Whiting Plant in Luna Pier, were retired in April 2016. Retiring the combined seven generating units is part of Consumers Energy’s focus on developing more renewable forms of electric generation and its goal of being net carbon neutral by 2040.

“Many customers like Consumers Energy are now experiencing an increased need to retire and decommission older, un-utilized, or less economically viable generating assets while maximizing the value of the assets and improving the environment,” said Charah Solutions President and CEO Scott Sewell. “By offering one-stop services, Charah Solutions can effectively manage the environmental aspects and safely close and enhance the site for the benefit of the community, all while substantially lowering the cost for the utility.”

As part of the environmental liability transfer services, Charah Solutions reviews each site’s particular closure challenges followed by a proposal that includes a closure plan and a repurposing plan for the property.

Equipment mobilization and construction for the B.C. Cobb ponds is expected to start this month and is permitted within Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 executive orders.

Onsite dewatering, excavation and transportation will begin in Q3 2020 and continue through the end of 2021. State approval of the final pond closure is targeted as soon as early 2022, in advance of the federal CCR Rule compliance deadline, which requires pond closure by March 2023.

Consumers also contracted Forsite Development to demolish and redevelop a portion of the Cobb facility separate to the location of the bottom ash ponds, according to a previous Business Journal report.

“Because we had some regulations with the ash pounds, we knew we had to control those, so we couldn’t sell that part to Forsite,” Dobbs said. “Charah has been doing this for a long time, these ash ponds that we have need to be closed and they provided a solution.”

The Cobb facility also offers a 1,200-foot dock allowing cargo to be loaded and unloaded on both sides. Forsite plans to convert the area into a deep-water marine terminal that will enable multiple maritime cargos to be shipped from Muskegon Lake.

Longtime tenant Verplank Dock Co., a Michigan-based port terminal operator with several facilities around the state, plans to consolidate its operations at the B.C. Cobb facility. The company previously leased a portion of the dock from the former property owner, Consumers Energy.

Per the agreement, Forsite will lease the property to Verplank with an option to buy, Forsite CEO Tom McKittrick said. Forsite is prohibited from selling the property until it is done with decommissioning work.

Forsite Development also purchased the J.R. Whiting power station in Luna Pier from Consumers around the same time it acquired the B.C. Cobb property, with plans to market its rail infrastructure to freight companies.

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