There are two power plants on the Coosa in Alabama. The Ernest C Gaston Steam Plant in Wilsonville on Lay lake is jointly owned by Alabama Power and Georgia Power and burns coal, with plans to convert four units to natural gas. The Gadsden Steam Plant in Gadsden on Lake Neely Henry burns coal and natural gas.
Alabama was ranked worst in the nation for coal ash disposal methods. Alabama was also ranked 12th on Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2011 “Toxic Twenty” list for worst air pollution, mostly due to coal-fired power plants. Coosa Riverkeeper produced a video “Coal Ash in the Coosa Valley” in December 2011. The video can be seen at the bottom of this page.
The Earnest C. Gaston Plant (pictured at right) is Alabama Power’s third largest fossil fuel plan. Gaston Steam Plant is a major emmitter of pollutants. In fact, according to the Environmental Integrity Project, it ranked second in the nation in the amount of arsenic dumped on-site. The plant was also Alabama’s largest polluter in 2009 when it sent 3.8 million pounds of toxins into the air. It has also been ranked as second in the nation for air emissions of mercury. Atmospheric deposition of mercury is a leading cause of fish contamination on the Coosa River.
The Gadsden Steam Plant pumps its coal ash through pipes across the river and dumps the waste into a coal ash pond. Water from this pond is then discharged back into the river. Gadsden’s drinking water intake is located less than a mile downstream of here.
The combined capacity of these two plants represents 15% of Alabama Power’s total coal-fired power plant capacity.
Very little coal mining is done in the Coosa Valley these days; in fact only Shelby County (75% of which is in the Coosa Valley) produced significant tonnage of coal in the last decade, and it was still one of the smallest producers in the state. Coosa coal was largely exhausted during the Civil War.