Classes visit coal operated power plant

This article submitted by Erin Aagesen on 11/10/99.

Bill Ryan's Natural Resources class and Jay Thompson's Principals of Technology and physics classes recently had the opportunity to visit a coal-fired power plant in Becker. Thirty-three students participated in this field trip on Friday, Oct. 29.

"The reason we go on this trip is to expose our students to the different ways electricity is made," said Thompson.

The students were taken on a two hour tour. First, they were given an explan-ation of where the Sherburne County plant gets the coal. They were told the coal comes from Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota by rail. The tour guide also talked about how the land is reclaimed, or put back into its natural state.

"Kids should be concerned about where the coal comes from that gives them electricity. Hopefully, this knowledge will make them want to conserve energy," Thompson explained.

Following the lecture, the students were shown around the facilities.

"If there was a bad part of this tour, it was that there was so much information that it's mind boggling," said Ryan.

A simplified version of how the electricity is generated goes like this: the coal is burned, which heats water, and creates steam. The steam turns turbines that are connected to electric generators, thus producing electricity.

The students were able to stand next to these generators and see the furnaces where crushed coal is blown to produce the heat for the operation to work.

Both Ryan and Thompson were impressed with the size of the structure. "Everything about it was big," noticed Thompson, "It cost billions of dollars for everything." The three generator plant, taking 12 years to build, is the biggest construction project ever undertaken in Minnesota.

Senior physics student Amanda Reeck commented on the tour, "It was interesting learning how they turn coal into power because of all the steps involved."

Along with the electricity generation, students were exposed to other aspects of the plant, which is owned by Northern States Power. For example, a private company uses steam by-products from the plant to heat eight greenhouses where roses are grown. The people at the plant also work with the raptor center at the University of Minnesota and have created a nesting box on one of their smokestacks. This was done because falcons are attracted to the height of the stacks, and the location provides for observation of the birds.

After the tour, Ryan remained uncertain as to whether he is in favor of coal as a source of power. Although this method is without the disposal problems of nuclear power, there is a risk of thermal pollution, and the plant itself is only 37 percent efficient. However, as Ryan states, "We have to have electricity."

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