Jones Act – States We Serve – Alabama – Barry Electric Generating Plant
The James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant is located on the Mobile River. It is run by Southern Company, the largest utility company in the southeastern United States, and owned by Alabama Power Company. Situated near U.S. Highway 43 in Bucks, Alabama, about 20 miles north of Mobile, it is fueled by coal and natural gas. The facility’s nameplate capacity is 1,771 megawatts.
A 2009 report by the Institute of Southern Studies listed Barry as the 13th most polluting power plant. Surface impoundments of coal combustion waste amounted to 2,350,349.40 according to the study. Additional emissions data from 2006 shows the plant released 12,449,918 of CO2, 52,621 tons of SO2, and 16,800 tons of NOx that year, plus 881 pounds of mercury.
The Barry Electric Plant is served by Ash Pond. As of a September 2016 inspection, the 597-acre pond had a maximum depth of 11 feet and 240,000 cubic-yards of water. There were also 15,961,255 cubic-yards of coal combustion residuals (CCR). It is also served by Gypsum Pond. This body of water has a maximum depth of 20 feet, 25,000 cubic-yards of water, and 237,000 cubic-yards of CCR, based on the most recent inspection. Fugitive dust control measures are taken in compliance with the law at both sites. These include minimizing access, conducting routine inspections, and limiting vehicle speed. Dusty areas are loads carried by trucks are sprayed with water to prevent escape.
The plant plans to close Barry Ash Pond starting in 2019, and the 19-acre Barry Gypsum Pond over an estimated 18 months from the beginning of closure activities.
Use of the Mobile River
Located on the west bank of the river, the plant uses this body of water to:
- Supply a plant-wide cooling system.
- Deliver coal to support its operations.
- Discharge waste heat, which equals about twice the electrical output of the facility.
Various studies have been conducted to measure the impacts of Plant Barry and other Southern Company facilities on the local environment. A carbon capture and sequestration system were put into place in 2010 that can capture up to 150,000 tons of CO2 per year, and transport it to a pipeline and inject it deep underground. The reserve is at the 9,500-foot level. As of November 2012, 100,000 tons had been captured by the fuel cell capture system, rather than being released into the air per company reports.
In 2010, a project to build a carbon capture and sequestration system, and demonstrate its potential, began at the plant. By October 2016, ExxonMobil and Fuel Cell Energy announced plans to test a fuel cell carbon capture technology. The goal was to separate carbon dioxide and concentrate it as power is generated, and then capture and cool it to reduce emissions. A CO2 capture plant already installed at the facility had reached a milestone of 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide, captured by November 2012, and the power company’s 2016 Carbon Disclosure Report indicated that 240,000 metric tons of gas had been injected. As part of another project, it partnered with a local conservation group to dump old boilers into the Gulf of Mexico to create an artificial reef. Whether the measures will replace air pollution with something else remains to be seen.
In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent. The policy considered 2005 emissions levels and set a goal for 2030. Plant Barry appears to be working towards, or even exceeding, this goal, based on its current carbon capture progress.
The EPA has also enforced regulations on wastewater discharge. The Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines and Standards were first issued in 1974, and amended several times, including in 2015. The final rule issued, then was the first to set federal limits on permissible toxic metal levels in the wastewater that power plants release. In total, it enforces an annual cut of 1.4 billion pounds of pollutants, including toxic metals and nutrients. The rule also limits the allowable withdrawal amount of water by 57 billion gallons.
This ruling covers discharges of lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and arsenic. Also, it covers selenium, which the Barry Steam Plant was found to be one of the top emitters of in 2010, according to an Environmental Integrity Project report. More recently, modifications and new technologies have enabled the Barry Electric Generating Plant to move towards meeting regulatory requirements, which are becoming more stringent as the environmental impacts of water usage, wastewater discharge, and atmospheric emissions are becoming better understood.