Wyodak Power Plant

The Wyodak power plant, named due to its location in Gilette, Wyoming, very close to South Dakota, was opened in 1978. Taking up a staggering 36 acres, the one unit plan was recognized as the biggest power plant in the world to use air cooled steam.  Especially technically advanced for its time, the plant received much acclaim for its design. Particularly of note were awards from the Edison Electric Institute as well as the National Society of Professional Engineers. The majority owner of the plant is PacifiCorp, laying claim to 268 MW of the 335 generated by the plant. Black Hills power owns the rest.

Approximately 2,000,000 tons of coal is burned by the 20 story tall boiler each year. The tremendously hot output (over 1000°F) is used to create incredibly high pressure steam: up to 1800 pounds per square inch of pressure. The coal demand is satisfied by the Wyodak mine located directly next to the plant. The mine is owned by co-owner of the plant, the Black Hills Corporation. There is a large conveyor belt directly between the two in order to quickly relay the coal from one location to the other while maintaining low transportation costs.

Despite being lauded in for its efficiency, the plant has not been without its shortcomings. In 2010, a study conducted by the Clean Air Task Force determined that coal-fired power plants such as Wyodak Power Plant were responsible for fine particle pollution creating a health hazard to surrounding areas. The study estimated that Wyodak alone was responsible for six deaths per year. Also attributed to the plant are eight heart attacks, 99 asthma attacks and four cases of chronic bronchitis annually.

Additionally, Wyodak likely contained asbestos insulation, presenting a significant health risk. Asbestos was a mainstay in power plants up until the 1970s. Tapped for its incredible resistance to heat, it was not known until much later that asbestos caused significant health risks. Inhalation of the fibers has been proven to cause several types of cancer including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Removal of asbestos has now become a priority in plants and other facilities in which it was used.