The 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Adventures

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Hidden Cost of Coal Power

We all use electricity. You're using some right now to to read this. As I walked the lakeshore, I became much more in touch with just where we get our electricity. There are many power plants located on the lake. It makes sense since these facilities heat vast quantities of water to produce steam to turn massive turbines to generate the electricity we use in our homes.

Most of us don't question the power we use-- how is it generated? where is it generated? what impact on our environment does that power plant have?

Each power plant along my hike diverted me from the shoreline--you can't walk on property owned by the power companies, and they are especially sensitive about trespassing around nuclear power plants (I walked around three of these on my Lake Trek). Most of our the power generated around Lake Michigan comes from coal-fired plants like the ones I photographed here (yes, even the last one is coal-fired, located in Michigan City, IN).

Each year in America, coal-fired power plants produce 130 million tons of waste, and most of this is coal ash which is filled with toxic metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead. This waste is stored in containment ponds near the plants and, since these plants are on the lake, the containment ponds are on the lake.

In this first satellite photo, the black area south of the Sheboygan, WI plant is the containment pond. And that pond is right up against Lake Michigan.

In the second photo, Port Sheldon, MI's containment pond snakes around a massive sand dune and ends near Lake Michigan. The black area south of the plant is an enormous mound of coal.

I walked past trains comprised of coal cars that stretched as far as I could see on my Lake Trek. It's time to 'green' our power production before we befoul the lake with a toxic spill.

60 Minutes recently did a piece on the toxicity of coal ash. Check it out HERE.

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