Gaston Steam Plant

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Gaston Steam Plant is a coal-fired power station near Wilsonville, Alabama, owned and operated by Southern Company's Alabama Power.

In May 2012, Alabama Power disclosed that it plans to have its four smaller generating units at Gaston, representing 1,000 megawatts, converted to run on natural gas by 2015. The project will involve building a gas pipeline to tie into the Transcontinental pipeline, about 30 miles south of the plant. Gaston's largest unit, 880 megawatts, will remain coal-fired. That unit has pollution control devices, and will likely require additional measures to meet new standards of mercury and other air toxics.[1]

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Site for National Carbon Capture Center project

In May 2009 the U.S. Department of Energy announced the launch of the National Carbon Capture Center "to develop and test technologies to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-based power plants." Announcing the formation of the center in May 2009, the DOE also stated that it would be "managed and operated by Southern Company Services. "Southern Company will establish and manage the NCCC at the Power Systems Development Facility (PSDF) in Wilsonville, Ala.[2] One of the project participants, Arch Coal, stated in a media release that "new facilities to conduct post-combustion testing and evaluation will be on the site of Plant Gaston, a coal-fueled generating plant adjacent to the PSDF that is operated by Southern Company subsidiary Alabama Power."[3]

Plant Data

Emissions Data

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 12,345,695 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 130,494 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions per MWh:
  • 2006 NOx Emissions: 19,839 tons
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions: 1,077 lb.

Coal waste

Gaston ranked 14th on list of most polluting power plants in terms of coal waste

In January 2009, Sue Sturgis of the Institute of Southern Studies compiled a list of the 100 most polluting coal plants in the United States in terms of coal combustion waste (CCW) stored in surface impoundments like the one involved in the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill.[5] The data came from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for 2006, the most recent year available.[6]

Gaston Steam Plant ranked number 14 on the list, with 2,306,006 pounds of coal combustion waste released to surface impoundments in 2006.[5]

EPA "high hazard" dam

In November 2011, the EPA released a new set of coal waste data that revealed 181 “significant” hazard dams in 18 states - more than three times the 60 significant-hazard ponds listed in the original database released in 2009. In addition to the increase in the number of significant hazard-rated ponds, eight previously unrated coal ash ponds were found to be high hazard ponds in information released by the EPA earlier in 2011. Because of the switch in ratings after the EPA inspections, the total number of high hazard ponds has stayed roughly the same at a total of 47 ponds nationwide.[7]

According to the National Inventory of Dams (NID) criteria, “high” hazard coal ash ponds are categorized as such because their failure will likely cause loss of human life. Six states that gained high hazard ponds include:[7]

  • Alabama: Gaston Steam Plant, Wilsonville: 1 high hazard pond

Carbon capture

Gaston Unit 5 is the site of a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Post-Combustion Carbon Capture Center (PC4), which is part of the larger National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC) to develop and test technologies for carbon capture and storage, managed and operated by Southern Company. Initial testing at the PC4 began when researchers used a solvent called monoethanolamine (MEA) to capture CO2 from a slipstream of flue gas from the plant. According to the DOE, the unit is in steady operation and capturing about 10 tons of CO2 per day. In addition to DOE and Southern Company, participants in the NCCC include American Electric Power, Arch Coal, EPRI, Luminant, NRG Energy, Peabody Energy, and Rio Tinto.[8]

Citizen Groups

See also Alabama and coal

Articles and Resources


  1. Thomas Spencer, "Alabama Power to connect Shelby plant to natural gas line," The Birmingham News, May 12, 2012.
  2. U.S. Department of Energy, "DOE Establishes National Carbon Capture Center to Speed Deployment of CO2 Capture Processes: Center Will Provide Flexible Test Bed for Emerging CO2 Capture Technologies for Coal-Fired Power Plants", Media Release, May 27, 2009.
  3. Arch Coal, "Arch Coal Joins National Carbon Capture Center", Media Release, May 27, 2009.
  4. "EIA 423 and Schedule 2 of EIA-923," EIA 923 Schedules 2, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sue Sturgis, "Coal's ticking timebomb: Could disaster strike a coal ash dump near you?," Institute for Southern Studies, January 4, 2009.
  6. TRI Explorer, EPA, accessed January 2009.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ken Ward Jr., "EPA data reveals more dangerous coal ash ponds" Coal Tattoo, Oct. 31, 2011.
  8. "National Carbon Capture Center Launches Post-Combustion Test Center" NETL, June 7, 2011.

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