From powering the economy to powering the environment
The transformation from an electric plant to a plant-dominated wetland
CONWAY, S.C. – Red-tipped concrete stacks and coal ash ponds made way for red maples and wetlands as Santee Cooper breached the dike on July 15, 2020 between former Grainger Generation Station’s fully excavated Ash Pond 2 and the Waccamaw River in Conway.
“This is one of the final steps in the promise Santee Cooper made to return Grainger’s reservoirs to their natural habitat,” said Mark Bonsall, Santee Cooper President and CEO. “Beyond that commitment, Santee Cooper successfully redirected most of the ash to beneficial reuse in the cement and concrete business, supporting jobs and community economies. It’s an exciting time, bringing this project to conclusion.”
Former Ash Pond 1, also fully excavated, was breached last fall. The wetlands, which will be taking shape over the next 10 years, will be on land the ash ponds once occupied. The Grainger site also includes the former cooling pond known as Lake Busbee, where wetlands restoration is well underway. Santee Cooper is planting a mixture of species in these areas including bald cypress, swamp tupelo, a variety of oaks and red maple. Planting is expected to be complete in Pond 2 next year.
These wetlands restoration efforts will protect and improve water quality, act as a sponge to mitigate large flood events, and recharge underground aquifers. Wetlands are diverse biological ecosystems that provide habitat for many species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibian, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals. About 1/3 of all threatened and endangered species call wetlands their home.
The excavation was a tremendous undertaking, and particularly challenging because of its close proximity to the Waccamaw River. Santee Cooper removed 1.7 million tons of ash, with 78% beneficially used in the cement market. The utility also removed 469,263 tons of soil, with 83% beneficially used as daily cover at neighboring Class 3 landfills.
The removal of ash and soil was completed ahead of the original 2023 deadline, with excavation beginning in March 2014 and finishing in May 2020. As the ponds were cleared, the dikes became less stable and Santee Cooper also took extensive steps to protect their integrity against rising floodwaters in the Waccamaw River associated with three hurricanes, including the record flood after Hurricane Florence in September 2018.
“We’ve worked closely with the City of Conway and Horry County throughout in order to minimize the project’s impact on the community and produce the greatest long-term benefit,” said Pamela Williams, Chief Public Affairs Officer and General Counsel. “Their cooperation and support helped us get to this point well ahead of schedule.”
The Grainger plant operated from 1966 to 2012. It was built to provide power to what was then a rural area of South Carolina. It was decommissioned because it was no longer cost-effective under new EPA regulations.