West Point Municipal Power Plant

The Cuming County Power District owns and operates the West Point Municipal Power Plant in Nebraska. Cuming County Power was formed in 1936 to transmit electricity to the rural population. The first unit began supplying electricity commercially in 1947, owning one of the oldest generators in the state at this time. Three additional generators have been added since that time. All four use a combination of natural gas and distillate oil, generating a total of 8.5 megawatts of power.

The West Point plant employs an internal combustion engine to generate electricity, which is then routed into West Point. As of 2008, West Point had more than 3,300 residents, and it was the largest community in Cuming County. Omaha businessmen founded West Point in 1857, but it was originally named New Philadelphia. It took its current name from the fact that it is the furthest settlement west from Elkhorn Valley. In spite of a slow beginning, West Point grew into a city once the railroad lines arrived in the region. The regions fertile soil later helped residents make it through the tough economic times of the depression years.

More recently, Cuming County Power District has obtained power from less conventional sources in addition to the West Point Municipal Power Plant. In 2005, the first methane recovery plant in Nebraska began operating as an 80-kilowatt generator. It was fueled by methane from a hog farm of 8,000. The electricity was transmitted through power lines of Cuming County to Nebraska Public Power’s lines.

Because the first unit of West Point Municipal began generation in 1947, few power plant construction safety guidelines existed. In addition, little had been revealed about the effects asbestos has on the lungs at that point. As a protective measure against fire hazards, asbestos was used heavily in the construction of the plant, as well as in the newer units that were completed in 1971. Because asbestos was relatively inexpensive and fire retardant, it was used to coat power plant machinery to keep the potential of fire to a minimum. Since West Point Municipal operates with oil, the piping was coated with extra asbestos to prevent the oil from prematurely igniting.

During the 1970s, it was standard for mills, worksites, factories, and power plants, such as West Point Municipal, to be constructed using the mineral asbestos due to its insulating properties. Once used to protect machinery from fires, the consequences of its use later proved damaging, long lasting, and irreversible, as workers contracted serious illnesses after exposure and may continue to see these diseases appear for decades more.