Xcel Energy has high standards for managing waste from our operations. In keeping with our company's core value to protect the environment, we have an excellent record in meeting and surpassing the rules that apply to how our waste is managed. When possible, we seek innovative solutions and opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle these materials.
Our primary waste streams come from producing and delivering energy, including coal ash that comes from using coal to generate electricity and the materials and equipment associated with the maintenance and repair of our transmission and distribution systems, as well as our natural gas system.
Coal-fueled power plants produce a number of coal combustion residuals or byproducts commonly referred to as coal ash. In 2016, our generating plants consumed about 24.6 million tons of coal, supplied from mines in Colorado and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and produced an estimated 1.9 million tons of coal ash.
We reused approximately 24 percent of the ash our plants produced in 2016. Throughout our system, we try to recycle coal ash whenever appropriate for beneficial use, such as in concrete products, roadbed material and engineered-fill material. At our Texas coal-fueled plants, 100 percent of the ash is beneficially used replacing products that would normally be generated from natural resources. As we install and operate new emission controls at our plants, such as scrubbers and activated carbon for controlling mercury emissions, the ash composition changes, making it potentially less desirable for beneficial use.
Ash that is not reused is properly disposed either in company- or third-party owned and operated landfill sites. More detailed information on our coal ash management practices is available on XcelEnergy.com.
In December 2016, we closed three small, inactive coal ash impoundments at the Black Dog Generating Plant in Burnsville, Minnesota, after the plant ceased coal operations in April 2015. We removed approximately 31,000 cubic yards of ash and other material and replaced it with clean soils to fill the depression. In addition, while doing work on impoundments at the Rocky Mountain Energy Center in Keenesburg, Colorado, we removed 63,723 tons of sediment and dredged solids so that we could reline existing impoundments.
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s final rule for coal combustion residuals became effective in October 2015. The new rule regulates coal ash as a non-hazardous waste under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA-D). It establishes minimum national standards for the design, operation and closure of landfills and surface impoundments. Beneficial use of coal ash as defined in the rule is exempted. We believe Xcel Energy’s facilities are well positioned to comply with the new rule without significant impact to operations and cost. A number of parties, including industry and nongovernmental organizations, are challenging the rule. We will continue to monitor the outcome of the litigation, which may result in modifications.
In addition, in December 2016, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act was signed into law, which includes provisions that allow the coal combustion residuals rule to be implemented through a state or federal-based permit program and that give EPA enforcement authority.
We track and properly dispose of different waste streams associated with our operations. These come from maintenance, repair and upgrade activities at our generating plants, service centers and in the field—at our substations, power line and pipeline locations.
Xcel Energy is committed to pollution prevention in business planning and decision making processes. It is our policy that all wastes generated by Xcel Energy must be managed at facilities that are properly licensed. All of our vendors that we contract to manage wastes are required to have a valid contract established in accordance with Xcel Energy's Supply Chain procedures and guidelines. Regulated wastes must be managed through the exclusive use of approved vendors that are systematically evaluated by our Supply Chain, Environmental Services and Legal departments. Our program requires routine audits of those waste vendors that accept more highly regulated waste streams, such as hazardous wastes, asbestos, PCBs and used oil.
Scrap metal waste is significantly higher for 2016 due to the replacement of older streetlights with more energy efficient LED streetlights. Xcel Energy agreed to scrap the lights rather than reusing and continuing to operate the less efficient lights (link to project information). Special wastes increased in part due to the refurbishment activities for cooling towers, rail spurs and sediment dredging projects.
The increase in hazardous waste for 2015 was the result of special boiler maintenance work at our power plants. The increase in asbestos is due to facility improvement projects.
1 Universal waste includes regulated waste such as fluorescent light bulbs, rechargeable batteries and mercury switches.
2 PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are chemicals controlled under the Toxic Substances Control Act. PCBs were historically used in transformer oil.
3 Special waste includes oily materials recovered from our operations, such as rags, filters, soil and water.
We have been phasing out equipment that contains PCBs from our transmission and distribution system for many years. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1979 defines PCB equipment as equipment containing oil having a PCB concentration of 500 parts per million (ppm) or more, while PCB-contaminated equipment has oil with a PCB concentration of 50 to 499 ppm.
Xcel Energy has completed its efforts to remove all known PCB (500 ppm or more) equipment from its system, including transformers, capacitors and other regulated categories of equipment. This equipment was targeted, removed and replaced with non-PCB equipment. In many cases, we retrofitted systems to accommodate the removal and replacement of regulated equipment with non-PCB equipment.
Other phase-out efforts include the replacement of regulated equipment with non-PCB equipment as systems are upgraded. Any regulated equipment removed from the field is disposed of and replaced with non-PCB equipment unless there are extenuating circumstances associated with the design or procurement of the equipment. Xcel Energy personnel are trained on PCB regulations and the proper identification, handling, removal and disposal of this equipment to facilitate phase-out efforts.
Aside from PCBs that are occasionally discovered during facility upgrade projects in small sealed or previously untested specialized equipment, most of the PCB and PCB-contaminated equipment left on our system is the result of cross-contamination occurring during manufacturing or maintenance activities prior to or shortly after the adoption of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
|PCB and PCB-contaminated oil (gallons disposed)||53,470||23,075||25,951||34,782||21,378|
|PCB and PCB-contaminated equipment (units removed from service)||721||714||764||711||632|
In the 1800s up until the mid-1900s, gas was manufactured using coal, oil and petroleum. It was used as natural gas is today, primarily for heating, cooking and street lighting. EPA estimates that thousands of manufactured gas plants or MGP facilities operated in the United States between 1815 and 1960. They were owned by municipalities and corporations, including predecessor companies to today’s electric utilities. MGPs produced a variety of wastes and byproducts, including coal tar. Some of the waste and byproducts were sold for reuse or disposed off-site, and some were left at plant sites.
Given the extensive history of our operating companies—going back more than 100 years—Xcel Energy has inherited legacy MGP sites. All the plant facilities were closed and dismantled years ago, and some of the properties where the MGP once operated have been sold. Over the years, Xcel Energy has worked cooperatively with environmental agencies and communities to successfully investigate and remediate former MGP sites when necessary.
Xcel Energy is part of an extensive remediation project underway in Ashland, Wisconsin. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the lakefront in Ashland was one of the busiest industrial ports in the country. It was the site not only of a legacy MGP, but also other industrial operations. The MGP was operated at the site from 1885 to 1947 and provided gas for street lighting and businesses. Later, the site was used for a city-owned landfill and waste water treatment plant. In Wisconsin, we have owned a portion of the Ashland site since 1986.
The site is being cleaned under the supervision of EPA and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). EPA has identified several parties responsible for the cleanup. Under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, EPA and WDNR, we have conducted Phase I of the project, which includes remediation of the impacted soils and groundwater at the site. The soil cleanup was completed in early 2015, and a long-term groundwater pump and treatment program is in place.
After successfully completing a pilot study in 2016 for wet-dredging impacted sediments from Lake Superior, Phase II of the cleanup began in early 2017. We are removing wood waste, construction debris and impacted sediments from the site through the end of the year and expect to begin site restoration efforts next year.
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Find more information about Xcel Energy’s coal ash management.
Learn more about the Ashland Project.
Read our corporate environmental policy.
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