Fly ash, bottom ash, synthetic gypsum. Not common words heard in the everyday life of most people, but they are to Charah. This company is actively handling these coal byproducts and many others to help U.S. energy producers meet today’s environmental standards.
Take fly ash as an example. This light, fluffy material is similar to what goes up a household chimney. Energy companies capture, store, and often sell it for use in building materials like concrete due to its strength and durability—much like the volcanic ash used thousands of years ago in the great Roman Coliseum that still stands today.
The unique challenge with fly ash (and other coal byproducts for that matter) is the sheer volume created over decades of generating much needed electricity, which begs the following questions:
What do you do with it?
Where’s the best place to store it?
How should you handle it to meet today’s standards?
Charah and Cat® machines are answering those questions. Every day the two are working together to move tons of the non-hazardous material from power plant ash ponds to newly engineered structures for more secure storage.
In North Carolina alone, Charah has 20 million tons of storage capacity, and Cat machines are loading the ash onto rail cars and shipping it to these sites. There it’s unloaded with special Cat 336 excavators on straddle carriers onto Cat 745 articulated trucks that take it to the structures. Reclamation is also part of the plan as the company is filling in what it’s taking out with new soil to make the area usable once again.
“My dad started the business in ’87 under the name Charah, which is an abbreviation of my first name and my sister Sarah,” says Charles W. Price, son of company founder Charles Price. “He was doing construction and underground utility work in western Kentucky with just a small crew and a few machines. When that work slowed down, our family was fortunate he found a local utility company that needed an ash pond cleaned out. Now we have nearly 700 employees in 15 states focused exclusively on coal ash management, and we have roughly 140 Cat machines doing the work. It’s amazing to think how it all started with my dad winning one job and meeting that one customer’s expectations.”
Meeting Charah’s Expectations
According to Price, Cat machines do an excellent job meeting Charah’s expectations. He’s particularly fond of Cat dozers, just like his dad.
“Caterpillar makes the best dozer in the business, and that’s why we have 40 of them,” he says. “Cat excavators, loaders, and trucks are strong too.”
Where the Cat brand really shines is dealer support.
“Much of our work is up to two hours away from the nearest city,” says Price. “If we don’t have somebody who can get to us in a timely manner and take care of our equipment, then we can’t do our business. It doesn’t matter where you go or what dealer branch you work with, everything is consistent in terms of support. I like that.”
Charah has a handful of national competitors across the U.S. and some regional and local competitors as well. At the end of the day, he says what sets his company apart is what sets Caterpillar apart—a simple “can do” attitude.
“Take care of your customers,” says Price.
Coal provides a tremendous amount of cheap energy, several reusable byproducts, and thousands of good paying jobs—a particular point of pride for Price.
“The coal industry is a very key piece of our economy and one we all should fully support,” he says. “I grew up in a coal mining community, and there was a huge pit about 100 yards from our backyard with a big dragline digging around. It was simply a way of life for me and my family. Fact is power plants employ a lot of people to produce energy year round, and we have year-round, full-time work for operators, construction workers, project managers, and various support jobs. That just isn’t typical in the construction business.”
For now, Charah is concentrating on ash pond closure and reclamation using Cat equipment.
“We pride ourselves in doing quality work in an environmentally friendly way, and we have steady work for the next 20 years,” says Price. “Hopefully my kids will get an opportunity just like my dad provided me and hundreds of other people.”
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