Cherokee Power Station is a large coal-burning facility located just north of downtown Denver, Colorado. It has four operating units that are capable of using natural gas as an alternate fuel supply. The station can generate a total of 717 megawatts of electricity, and has been in operation since 1957. The Cherokee Power Station is owned and operated by Xcel Energy, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Xcel Energy is one of the largest providers of electricity and natural gas in eight Midwest and western states.
The Cherokee Station is Xcel Energy’s largest electric power generating plant in Colorado in terms of actual energy production. All of the facility’s emissions are controlled by the use of baghouses, which act like giant vacuum cleaners to trap and separate particulates, preventing them from reaching the open atmosphere. This type of technology is becoming very common among large point-source pollution emitters, and has the capability of reducing sulfur and other particulates emissions by up to 99 percent.
The station uses water from the Platte River and returns it only after repeated use; the plant has a strict monitoring system that detects abnormally high amounts of water pollutants to help control the quality of the water being returned to the river. In addition to these environmental precautions, three of the four generating units at the Cherokee Power Station have special low-nitrous oxide (low-NOx) burners that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions significantly, and two of the units have dry sorbent injection systems in place. Even with all of these precautions, the station remains a primary user of coal and as such, a great amount of maintenance and routine cleaning of the furnace units is required.
Like most coal-fired generating facilities, the Cherokee Power Station has likely used asbestos in the past as an insulating compound and fire retardant material. Asbestos is a form of silicate that is gathered from bauxite mines, is relatively inexpensive and very lightweight. It was commonly installed in areas of power plants where high heat was the norm. Paints containing asbestos fibers were used to coat wires and were also applied to metal housings for circuit breakers. Workers at the Cherokee Power Station were fitted with protective clothing and gloves that had asbestos fibers woven into the cloth. Pipes were wrapped with this material to keep water hot and protect technicians from being burned.
Asbestos fibers were often inhaled by workers, especially in aging buildings where the fibers had broken free and become airborne. Long-term exposure to asbestos causes serious health problems in some individuals, often years after contact. Mesothelioma, a deadly disease nearly always caused by asbestos, often shows no symptoms for decades after long-term contact.