Pawnee Station

Located in Brush, Colorado, and owned by a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, the Public Service Company of Colorado, the Pawnee Power Station is a coal-fired, steam-electric generating station. Construction first began on the station in 1977 and its first commercial operation started in December 1981. Its single unit is able to produce 505 megawatts of electricity. The Manchief Power Plant, a gas-fired combustion turbine plant capable of producing 250 megawatts, is also located on the same property that contains the Pawnee plant. Xcel Energy purchases Manchief’s electricity output.

The Pawnee Station burns sub-bituminous coal with a low sulphur content gathered from the Gilette, Wyoming, coal field called the Eagle Butte Mine. This is the world’s largest coal field and is located in the Powder River Basin. This coal has a low heat rate, or BTUs, meaning 50 percent more coal must be burned for the same BTUs as coal from the eastern United States. As a result, the Pawnee Station emits large quantities of pollutants such as mercury, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide into the surrounding environment.

In 1984, the plant received a baghouse, which is a room filled with fiberglass bags that remove particles from the exhaust passing through them. It also uses low nitrogen oxide burners, dust collection and suppression equipment and fuel blending facilities to help reduce emissions. In addition, no process water is released from the plant, making it a zero discharge plant. Pawnee pumps water from wells five miles away to a reservoir on the plant site. Fish are raised in this water by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Power plants remain a necessity in the U.S. today, though they can still be dangerous workplaces. Because of the risk of burns and heat injuries to workers, as well as the constant potential for fire, asbestos was used greatly throughout power plants for decades, until it finally saw regulation in the 1970s. This means any plant built in that decade, including Pawnee Station, might have been constructed with this material. In addition to its use in the walls, ceilings and flooring, many pieces of electricity-generating machinery and equipment in power plants, including the turbines and generators, have asbestos linings due to the material’s electricity and heat-resistant properties and insulating ability.

Asbestos, a naturally occurring substance, releases minute, toxic fibers into the air when materials containing it are disturbed or handled. When these fibers are inhaled, they become embedded in the lining of the lungs or the abdomen and can eventually cause asbestosis and mesothelioma. Many workers in power plants and other worksites suffered exposure years before the dangers of asbestos were widely known by the public and even today former employees of these facilities are discovering symptoms of mesothelioma, as it can lie dormant for up to 50 years.