Pleasant Prairie Power Plant
We Energies owns and operates the Pleasant Prairie Power Plant, the largest electrical generating station in the entire state of Wisconsin. The facility is located in Kenosha County, about five miles from the shores of Lake Michigan. It is a coal-burning facility that produces in excess of 1,200 megawatts of electrical energy. The station was commissioned in 1980 and has two large boiler units that burn over 13,000 tons of coal per day.
The power station uses low-sulfur coal that is mined in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and is brought to the site by train. The boilers are 20 stories tall and are suspended by 130-ton “I” beams. The coal furnaces at the station reach an internal temperature of 2,000° Fahrenheit and heat the water in the boilers to over 950° Fahrenheit. The resulting steam pressure is about 1,990 pounds per square inch, and this pressurized vapor is what turns the giant turbine blades. After the generators produce the electricity, the step-up transformers deliver an output of approximately 345,000 volts.
When it was first constructed, the Pleasant Prairie Power Plant did not employ all of the environmental controls required today. In recent years a fly ash control was developed that involves modern electrostatic precipitators; about 97 percent of the fly ash is removed and never reaches the outside air. About 200,000 gallons of water are continuously pumped between the condenser units and cooling towers. The result is the occasional steam vapor seen above the power plant, which is non-polluting. Modern scrubber controls were fitted in both of the boiler units by 2006, designed to reduce the overall emission of nitrous oxide from the burned coal.
Even in the 1980s asbestos could still be found in some power plants, possibly even the Pleasant Prairie facility. Asbestos is a very efficient insulator and protects against heat quite well, simultaneously acting as a fire retardant because it does not conduct heat to any great degree. Worker’s protective clothing was frequently fitted with asbestos lining, and steam pipes were often wrapped in this material. Bulkheads around boiler units often had asbestos panels or tiles built in as well.
After years, asbestos fibers can break loose and be inhaled by plant workers. It is now known that mesothelioma and asbestosis are caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. However, many are not diagnosed with these complications until many years after having worked at a steam plant or other facility where asbestos was once commonly found. These conditions can lie dormant for decades before finally appearing, leaving patients with a poor prognosis, especially regarding mesothelioma.