Power tour an eye-opener

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gazette editor Bruce Crosby, Scoop Media publisher Jason Frederick and others were guests of Southwest Public Power District on an enlightening tour organized by Nebraska Public Power District directors Ed Schrock, Larry Linstrom and Ron Larson.

The two-day tour last week was an eye-opener for those of us who usually don't give much thought to electricity, beyond flipping a switch or paying the utility bill.

NPPD's Gerald Gentleman Station, which provides a large fraction of the state's electricity and NPPD's income, was impressive with its giant turbines, mountains of coal and maze of power lines, steam pipes and cooling channels.

The Water Interpretive Center at Kingsley Dam was enlightening as well, detailing the history of the use of water for irrigation and energy in central Nebraska. Nebraska's "inland sea" and the huge earthen dam that contains it helped tour participants become accustomed to the giant scale of things to come.

There are no words to describe the size of an operation the size of the Black Thunder Coal Mine in Wyoming, and pictures, which we plan to publish later this week, hardly do it justice.

Giant dump trucks, driven by tiny men and women hardly visible in the cabs, are themselves dwarfed by draglines the size of department stores wielding buckets the size of houses rapidly removing tons of earth covering a vein of coal.

Those first scoops of dirt start the long process that brings the coal from deep in the earth into coal cars that wend their way to Gerald Gentleman Station where the energy stored in the coal eons ago is released to power our everyday lives.

With all the talk of alternative energy such as wind and solar power, the trip showed first hand the amount of power our modern way of life really requires, and just how much money and effort it will take to replace even a fraction of the fossil fuel upon which we now rely.

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