Electricity generation requires large amounts of water to produce steam, remove heat, or power hydroelectric turbines. (Hydropower makes up about 2 percent of Southern Company generation.) Some of the water naturally evaporates—what you see rising out of the large cooling towers at steam power plants is water vapor. Some of the water at power plants is cooled and reused. Most is returned back to its source.
Environmental concerns regarding water principally relate to the quantity of water withdrawn and consumed from rivers and lakes, the quality of the water returned to the source, and any effects on aquatic life. Southern Company plants withdraw, on average, almost 4.5 billion gallons of water per day; about 94 percent of that water is returned to the river or lake. Performance »
Southern Company is researching technologies—including light and sound devices, barrier nets, fish return systems, and fine mesh screens—to reduce the impact of power plant intakes on aquatic life.
Proposed new EPA standards for cooling water intake structures are in the comment phase. Southern Company and its subsidiaries have submitted comments to the newly proposed standards including recommendations for the rule.
Southern Company supports reasonable regulations that take into account the great variation of impacts from plant to plant, but national standards without flexibility for site-specific issues are unwarranted. Southern Company's formal comments on the proposed rule include recommendations to address these and other issues. Read comments.
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System controls water quality by regulating point source discharges into U.S. waterways. Southern Company power plants have water discharge permits for pH, suspended solids, oil and grease, chlorine, temperature, iron, and other parameters. Typical permitted discharges include cooling water, ash ponds, coal pile runoff ponds, metal cleaning waste ponds, sump overflows, and oil/water separators. These points are monitored or sampled periodically in accordance with permit requirements.
Since its inception in 2000, volunteers from Southern Company's Renew Our Rivers program removed more than 11.5 million pounds of trash and debris from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and northwest Florida waterways. More than 10,000 volunteers, mostly employees or family members and friends of Southern Company and its subsidiaries, have participated. More »
Hydropower remains one of the cleanest, most environmentally safe and affordable sources of energy. Although hydropower has limited growth potential in the Southeast, it has long provided a source of renewable energy as annual rainfall replenishes the raw material used to make electricity.
Southern Company has 33 hydroelectric facilities that in 2011 generated 2 percent of the company's output. In addition, these facilities provide more than 200,000 acres of lakes and more than 5,000 miles of shoreline for use by the general public.
In 2011, Southern Company issued its first comprehensive report on management of water resources. More »