Gibson Generating Station
A coal burning power plant, the Gibson Generating Station situated in Gibson County, Indiana is the largest power facility operated by Duke Energy. Located opposite of Mount Carmel, Illinois and close to the Wabash River, the plant has five units with a 3,145-megawatt capacity, making it the 3rd largest coal power facility worldwide. In addition, it is the 9th largest electrical plant in America. Once the Nanticoke Generating Station closes in 2014, the Gibson facility will be the biggest coal-powered plant on the North American continent.
Gibson Lake, a man-made lake, is situated on the plant’s property and used to cool the facility. Next to the plant, and also owned by Duke Energy, is a public access site to the Wabash River. This is located close to a small area of land used to preserve wildlife and is the closest boat-ramp to Mount Carmel on the river’s Indiana side. Situated directly south of Gibson Lake is a National Wildlife Refuge called Cane Ridge, which opened in 2006, and is a nesting area for a rare bird named the Least Tern.
Originally built by Public Service Indiana in 1972 as a 2-unit coal fueled power plant, the Gibson Generating Station saw the addition of several stacks throughout the next 30 years. In 1995, Cinergy took over Public Service Indiana, and shortly thereafter, all 5 stacks were fitted to meet the new selective catalytic reduction standards. In 2006, Cinergy was taken over by Duke Energy. Recently, work on the plant’s new smokestacks was completed, and several projects went underway to increase production and decrease emissions. In 2008, these projects were completed.
On April 18, 2007, an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale hit Gibson County and minor damage was recorded at the plant. The number 4 unit deactivated itself during this event due to built-in technology that detected the vibration of the earthquake.
High selenium levels in 2006 resulted in the lake being closed for fishing. That same year the plant’s unit number 4 accidentally released a haze of blue which floated over Mount Carmel. Sulfuric acid emissions descended on the area, exacerbating respiratory disorders and prompting the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to investigate. Many concerns have been recently voiced over the facility’s disposal pits for ash, stating that these have been allowing boron to leak into the area’s water tables. The Gibson facility generates over 20 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution on an annual basis, making it the 4th greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions from a power facility in America.
In addition to these environmental hazards, as an older plant built in the 1970s, the plant also likely posed a local threat to the employees and their families as a result of some of the materials used in its construction. Asbestos remains one of the most dangerous chemicals in past construction because of its tendency to fragment into small particles that can pollute the air inside these facilities and be ingested by those inside. These ingested particles collect in the tissue surrounding organs and lead to a lethal form of cancer known as mesothelioma, which carries an extremely poor life expectancy.