Biomass plant asks permission to dump wastewater into Beaverdam creek

Georgia Renewable Power has applied for a permit to discharge wastewater from their biomass energy facility in Colbert into a tributary of Beaverdam Creek.

The five-year permit would allow Georgia Renewable Power to discharge at most 5.85 lbs of chloroform, 1.5 lbs of phosphorus and 0.065 lbs of cyanide each day into Beaverdam Creek, which flows through Watson Mill Bridge state park after emptying into the Broad river. The facility, which operates 24/7, is expected to discharge an average of 205,000 gallons of wastewater a day.

Biomass power plant in Colbert, Georgia
The biomass power plant in Colbert, Georgia

Most power plants have a need for large amounts of fresh water, which they use to generate steam and produce electricity. Currently, the Madison county biomass plant is having to truck their wastewater out because they lack a discharge permit, according to David Groves, manager of the facility. 

Groves claims that the water discharged from his plant is “good quality, potable water that’s been heated up a bit.” His initial permit application did not include mention of chloroform or cyanide, but these chemicals were found in a later test and had to be included in the permit.

In the permit application, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources states that “there is a reasonable potential to cause or contribute to an instream violation of the Georgia Water Quality Standard” for both chloroform and cyanide, as well as copper and the water’s pH level. Likewise, oil and grease from the plant’s stormwater runoff is also a potential issue.

Dr. Frank Carl, who has a PhD in biochemistry and is the Science Advisor for Savannah Riverkeeper, is surprised by the presence of chloroform and cyanide in the wastewater. In a letter to the Department of Natural Resources, he suggests that these chemicals must be a lingering residue from when the plant was burning creosote-treated railroad ties before that was made illegal by the Georgia legislature. 

It’s also possible these chemicals could be coming from the agents used to clean the plant’s cooling tower.

More concerning to Carl are the high limits for ammonia (2.1 lbs per day) and phosphorus (1.5 lbs per day), which he feels could encourage algal growth. It would be “too much … for an already impaired stream,” he writes. This is made worse by the slow flow of Beaverdam creek, which does not have “sufficient average flow to adequately dilute the pollutants emanating from GRP Madison.”

Dave Ramsey, a board member of the Madison County Clean Power Coalition, also opposes this permit. “They are not treating the water sufficiently at the site. They’re putting out some pretty severe pollutants,” he said. 

Ramsey criticized Georgia Renewable Power for not treating the water more thoroughly and supports the suggestion Carl made in his letter that they make use of “on-site wetland remediation,” instead of spraying it over land or dumping it in Beaverdam creek.

The Department of Natural Resources is currently accepting public comment on this permit application. To give a comment, email EPDcomments@dnr.ga.gov with “NPDES permit reissuance – GRP Renewable Energy Facility, LLC (Madison County/Franklin County)” as the subject line.

The EPD will host a public hearing on this issue via Zoom at 7:00pm on March 2. To attend the meeting, click here: https://gaepd.zoom.us/j/96881364173

To dial in by phone, you can call this number: 1-470-381-2552
The meeting ID is 968 8136 4173 and the passcode is 572750

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