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Big Stone Power Plant, Big Stone City, South Dakota

The Big Stone Power Plant is a coal-burning power station located near Big Stone City, South Dakota, a town with a population of about 600. The plant first came online in 1975, and has the capacity to generate 475 megawatts of electricity. It is operated by Otter Tail Power Company, and jointly owned by Otter Tail, NorthWestern Energy, and Montana-Dakota Utilities.

In addition to using coal as a fuel source, the Big Stone Power Plant also converts old tires into energy using a combustion process. The plant processes shredded tires shipped in from across the state. While this does provide a useful way for the state to dispose of this waste, the plant has also received complaints from the Environmental Protection Agency concerning air pollution created by burning both rubber and coal.

Coal-Burning Plants and the Environment

Coal-burning plants are among the oldest types of power plants in the US. Unfortunately, they are also considered one of the “dirtiest” sources of electricity. When coal is burned, it releases a number of pollutants into the air, including:

  • Ashes
  • Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide
  • Sulfur dioxide, which contributes to acid rain
  • Mercury

In recent years, new technology has been developed that can help coal-burning plants reduce the amount of emissions they release. For example, “scrubbers” can remove significant amounts of sulfur dioxide from a coal-burning plant’s emissions. However, the Big Stone Power Plant has been criticized by environmentalist groups for failing to take advantage of such technology.

Older power plants that have not been recently renovated can also contain a different hazard: the toxic mineral asbestos. Asbestos was widely used in the construction and maintenance of power plants across the US for much of the 20th century. Employees of power plants constructed prior to 1987 may be at risk for asbestos exposure and related conditions such as mesothelioma.

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