Dismantling of Grainger power plant underway

A power plant that supplied electricity to the Horry County area for nearly 50 years is coming down.

The first steps in the dismantling of Santee Cooper's Dolphus Grainger plant in Conway are underway.

Crews have begun removing asbestos from the 47-year-old plant, which closed last December, due to new environmental regulations.

The state-owned utility is also moving away from coal in favor of natural gas and nuclear power.

It may take a decade or more to empty the coal ash lagoons on the site. Coal ash is a waste product of the power generation process.

Waccamaw Riverkeeper Christine Ellis says good riddance to it.

"We were really supporting the removal of (the coal ash) because of its toxic constituents, probably the most egregious of which is arsenic, and we do have evidence that there is groundwater contamination and contamination of the surface waters of the Waccamaw river," said Christine Ellis.

Coal ash from Grainger and two other Santee Cooper plants will be recycled into products like concrete blocks, paint and plastics.

A spokesperson for the utility says the process has the blessing of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"It is an economic success story as well. It's creating jobs, it's supplying a raw material to cement and concrete manufacturers and it is cost effective for our customers," said Mollie Gore.

The removal of the coal ash settles a lawsuit from conservation groups, though Gore says that's a secondary concern. The utility wanted to get rid of the coal ash all along.

So now, Ellis says it's time for out with the old, in with the new.

"There's lots of opportunity to use that land in a way that will benefit the City of Conway, the citizens of Conway and the entire local community."

Gore says Santee Cooper is working with the city on a long-term plan for Lake Busbee, which had been used as a cooling pond for the plant.