Native News Network Staff in Native Currents. Discussion »
LECHEE, ARIZONA Seven Shonto Chapter officials, staff, two Peabody Energy employees and a representative from Navajo National Monument visited the Navajo Generating Station last week to learn about its history, pollution controls, economic importance and Navajo employment.
Each of the three massive turbines are capable of producing
750 megawatts of power, and hundreds of blades nearly 10 feet
in length, spin at 3,600 revolutions per minute
Shonto officials wanted to know about the Black Mesa/Lake Powell Railroad that delivers coal from the Peabody Coal silos on Highway 160 to the Navajo Generating Station.
A portion of the 78 mile long track goes through their community, and they said residents have questions about sound, vibration and road crossings.
NGS Railroad Manager David Tso explained the railroad makes three trips a day, usually seven days a week. NGS is responsible for the right-of-way fence along both sides of the track and workers maintain it regularly.
Trains are required by law to sound their horns at every crossing for safety to warn drivers who may be about to cross the tracks, he added.
Navajo Generating Station Environmental and Safety Manager Paul Ostapuk told the Shonto visitors that the power plant was built on the Navajo Nation to save new hydroelectric dams from being constructed on the Colorado River and flooding part of the Grand Canyon.
"It was part of an environmental compromise,"
"There was water in Lake Powell, there was coal on the Navajo Nation, the town of Page existed with services and a paved highway, and there was strong interest in creating some kind of economic opportunity for the Navajo Nation. So that’s the roots right there of NGS."
After meeting NGS managers and an hour-long introductory presentation, Shonto officials put on hardhats and safety glasses to take a tour past the huge pulverizers that crush coal to the consistency of baby powder. The powder is then blown into immense boilers that heat tubes containing water to produce superheated steam.
Once at 1,005 degrees, the steam is used to turn the blades of giant turbines at 3,600 RPM. The turbines then power generators that make electricity.
The group next walked along the massive turbine deck past NGS's three huge turbines. Ostapuk explained that the plant's turbines and generators are capable of making enough reliable "baseload" electricity for 3 million people.
"What that means is we’re running 24/7,"
"Our mission is to be online 24 hours a day, all seasons of the year."
Shonto Chapter President Felix Fuller, an NGS chemist, showed the visitors the water laboratories where he works. Water used in the production of electricity at NGS must be absolutely purified down to the parts per billion level and free of any mineral content, he said. That prevents deposit buildups to keep equipment operating in good condition.
NGS has four laboratories where water, coal and pollution control chemistry is monitored. Four of NGS's six chemists are Navajos.
Shonto Vice President Elizabeth Whitethorne-Benally, who was recently elected to succeed Fuller as president, said her impression of NGS is better than she expected.
"It was a very good tour. The one that really made an impression on me is the recycling of water. Whatever is the byproduct of the plant is re-used."
Navajo Generating Station uses water from Lake Powell in the production of electricity. Water is not wasted. It is recovered along with any storm water runoff and then recycled back in to the process using brine concentrators and a salt crystallizer.
Because Shonto is considering building a commercial project, she wanted to learn how the Navajo Generating Station treats sewage water to see if the process would be applicable to business development.
Whitethorne-Benally said people tend to view NGS as "a mysterious place on the other side of the fence" but that visiting and talking to employees in their own language helps to simplify it. She said she would recommend that other chapter and tribal decision-makers tour NGS.
"Oh, of course, because they'd get enlightened and a better idea what goes on here at the plant,"
Wynn Bronston, a Shonto chapter resident, said Fuller urged chapter officials and residents to visit NGS to gain a better understanding. She's always wanted to visit the plant, she said, because of the stories she heard as a child from her grandfather and great-grandfather who helped to construct it in the 1970s.
"It's extraordinary. Unbelievable. Phenomenal,"
"I was so excited to come and I'm glad I'm here. The history of this place. My grandpa used to work here, and my great-grandpa. They helped build this and they always talked about it."
From the turbine deck, the group visited Control Rooms 1 and 2 where they met Operation Specialists Brandon Lane, who has worked at NGS for eight years, and Eddie Kent, who has been there for 23.
Before them on a wide console were multiple computer screens to monitor thousands of readings throughout all parts of the 2,250-megawatt plant. From here, operators watch water, steam, coal, pollution controls, turbines, megawatts being produced and dozens of other functions throughout a 12-hour work shift.
"These guys have spent a lot of time training to get where they are,"
said Terry Edwards, an Operations Supervisor who trains new control room operators.
"They come in as operator trainees. They spend a 12-week period in school and go out on shift. There's a series of schools they have to attend and pass in order to progress and move up."
Trainees will spend 11 months or longer practicing on a simulator to learn to handle any event that can occur at the power plant so that their response to a problem is instantaneous.
To become a trainee requires many other courses taught at the plant and experience over several years to qualify.
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posted December 10, 2012 5:59 am est