Monday, August 12, 2013

Day 2 of the NIPCO Energy Tour

Despite the shock to my system at the obscenely early hour of departure from Pierre Thursday morning, I did enjoy watching the sun come up over the fields. This time I was traveling with my camera and was presented with an endless panorama of beautiful shots, like this one....

About 8:00 AM, the tour guide, Cathy, put in a polka cd and announced we were stopping at Lawrence Welk's birth place near Strasburg, N.D.! Bruce was in heaven, naming every polka, all 17 of them, while the guy behind us groaned, "One or two would have been okay!" Here's Bruce and Lawrence in the corner of his living room.
Back on the bus and headed to Bismark, N.D. to the motel, a quick 'comfort' break, left off our luggage for the motel workers to put in our rooms, reboard the bus for a big day. We saw lots of fields of sunflowers but this was the first one blooming.
Our first stop was a huge complex, Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah, that makes synthetic natural gas from lignite coal with 9 co-products, the most important to us is anhydrous ammonia that we use for fertilizer. No pictures allowed!! They have their own fire department, full time doctor and nursing staff and cafeteria. They served us a sack lunch while we watched a movie of the plant, then went up to a huge room with a scale model of the plant that took 2 years and 8 million dollars to build, then they built the plant!! Talk about a leap of faith that things would work!!
Back on the bus to Freedom Mine, the most impressive part of the trip. We stopped for a group photo at this retired dragline bucket, the new ones will hold 8 Suburbans.
I love this picture, it makes me look tiny, especially after eating our way to N.D.

We had a terrific guide, we were able to drive right down into the mine where they were loading coal that had been blasted but we were asked not to put any pictures out on the internet so I'm honoring that. We can share with family and friends but don't publish. It is AMAZING!!!!! (I can't use enough !!) The machines are massive, they got a new dragline that was built in Illinois, it took 100 truck loads and 2 years to put it together at the mine!!
They have a full time geologist on staff who takes soil borings and determines how much coal and what kind before an inch of ground is moved. They also take note of wildlife, the lay of the land and any archeological sites or ancient burial grounds, if that is so, they leave it. The top soil is removed and stored, then the overburden, that is the soil between the top soil and coal vein, is removed and stored. We were in a mine probably 30 - 40 feet deep before they hit coal, then they blast and haul the coal out.  
This is strip mining that has had a bad rap from companies coming in, tearing up mountains to get at coal, then leaving them in that condition, moving on to another. That was then, not now. They have to leave the ground as good or better than it was before and they are doing it. They do GPS maping of the site, if there was a hill, they restore it do a hill, if there was a line of trees, they are planted, if there was a pond, one is built. We drove through a part of reclaimed hill and I can put this on.
You would never know this was once mined! The mine monitors this land for 10 years, noting the fertility and wildlife that returns, then they can sell or lease the land back to the original owners or someone else if they don't want it back. We were so impressed with the total operation!

From there the bus took us next door to Antelope Valley coal generating station, we saw the coal trucks dumping coal right at their plant for use. The coal is screened, they use the 2" or larger pieces, the smaller ones are then trucked to Great Plains just 2 miles away. Again, we had a great tour guide, a cute little girls who knew her stuff, she didn't need a cheat sheet. They also have a model of their plant but she said it cost just a mere $200,000, nothing to brag about compared to Great Plains.
We all donned hard hats, ear pieces and safety glasses for a tour of the plant, pictures were welcome - but my battery failed and my spare was in my luggage at the motel!! DANG IT!! They took us to the 17th floor, then up 2 more flights for a birds eye view and it was stunning, and me with a dead battery!! DOUBLE DANG!!
Let me put in a plug for any environmentalists out there reading this and shaking their heads at the thought of coal mining and coal burning plants. When you hear about 'clean coal' believe it, the regulations are so strict now, the plants are spending millions of dollars on 'scrubbers' that clean the smokestacks of 99% of sulfur emissions before going out the chimneys. The air is so clean now, Bruce told me last year he spent $400 putting sulfur on our fields! To even think we could have the power we have without coal, is ludicrous. Seeing the Freedom Mine up close is eye opening.
By the time we boarded the bus, again, we were all in a stupor, we had one more tour but luckily that was a driving tour through a wind farm. Which for Bruce and I, was "Ho Hum," because we see windmills all the time. But the guy who we stopped to pick up had some interesting numbers on wind energy and I had heard this from an engineer who works in a power plant in Chicago. Without the government tax break that will pick up, I think, 80% of the cost of a wind turbine, there is no way it will pay. It takes about 20 years for a turbine to pay for itself and their life span is about 20 years!!
This was one evening we were actually hungry as we headed back to Bismark and the GOLDEN CORRAL!!! Our favorite place to eat, again, we could see the panic in the eyes of a family of 5 who were disembarking their SUV just ahead of the bus, they wasted no time in running to the door.
We drove around the Capitol grounds but thankfully we were not asked to leave the bus, after the long day, the full bellies, another early morning facing us on Friday, I'm not sure one person would have gotten off. Back at the motel, Bruce and I had a nice surprise, this is what was right off our balcony!
It was heavenly, even Bruce left the tv or a swim in the pool then it was off to bed since we had to be on the bus at 5:30 AM, YIKES!!!



  1. what an entertaining and informative post! You must have taken notes or else had a fantastic memory. Is it just me, or did LW look a little like Liberace?

  2. Well, thank you Jeannie!! I was afraid this might be a little boring but we loved the trip, anyone who is given the opportunity to go on this tour, should. I learned a lot but thank heavens we brought back brochures from each place to jog my memory. The coal mining was so fascinating and the fact that they drive the busses right down in the mine, blew our minds.

  3. What an awesome trip. I agree, this is very informative. Jeff and I both love these kinds of things. Didn't like to learn in school, but now we can't get enough of it :-)

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Just logged into you blog tonight and was reading about your trip. Great information that you shared.

    Be sure to send your sunrise picture into KTIV weather photos (it is a winner).