STANTON — The Great River Energy Stanton Station threw a pair of 13s for the last hour and final minute it pulsed coal-fired energy down the wire.
That moment was 13:13 in military time, or 1:13 p.m. Saturday in civilian time when the lead operator walked over to the control panel and disconnected the power plant from the power grid for the last time in history.
It was a solemn moment in the plant’s 50-year history, one everyone knew had been coming since July when the company said it planned to shut it down rather than continue expensive upgrades. Operations called the transmission grid center with a final message — 200 megawatts, over-and-out.
Steve Richter, who leads fuels and materials services for the company's North Dakota operations, said he called a moment of silence in the control room where workers had crowded in to watch. He said it wasn’t to say farewell to the facility, but it was done to honor all the men and women who had pioneered large-scale lignite energy production and those who worked there over all the years since.
“I thanked them all for the dedication,” he said. And then to ease out of that emotionally charged moment, someone in the room quipped, “And may she rust in peace.” There was a chuckle around the room and as Richter said, “You’ve got to have some humor.”
Wade Aanderud, leader of plant operations, said the last moment of operations was always scheduled to occur sometime before March 1 and, with that in mind, he ordered in the very last 133-car train of Wyoming Powder River coal for delivery on Feb. 12.
On Saturday, operators were keeping a close eye on the outside coal “grizzlies,” where stockpiled coal is pushed up to drop into the crushing unit below. The grizzlies were getting really empty, setting off a race against the clock: juggling remaining coal against the time required to drain 1,000 gallons of hot oil lubricants out of the No. 1 boiler equipment before it cooled too much to flow.
David Kelsch, a control room operator, said knowing the moment was coming was different than having it arrive. Those eerily empty grizzlies outside, all but clear of coal for the first time since the plant went into operation, “That’s when it felt real,” he said.
Though some coal remained, Aanderud made the call to quit feeding the boiler and then watched it reach master fuel trip mode.
“It was a goal in the next four hours to get all the oil drained out before the end of the shift. Everybody was on edge a little bit,” he said of the employees who achieved the goal.
Now that the plant is officially out of operation, the remaining 55 of 68 employees and specialty contractors will clean and strip the plant down to mortar and steel for its final May 1 decommissioning. Of the remaining employees, some are retiring, another 28 are moving to other GRE facilities and only a few will be hitting the employment market.
John Weeda, GRE’s director of generation and decommissioning coordinator, said the station will be demolished with the idea that it should not become an eyesore to the community, rather than the place of pride and purpose it was for so long.
Weeda said demolition will start in 2018 and continue over several years until the site is in brownfield condition.
“We don’t want it to be a nuisance,” Weeda said.
On Monday, the old plant was quiet, with no background hum of spinning rotors and generators that were always the sound of machines at work.
Aanderud said it’s reminiscent of maintenance outages, but those were characterized by people at work taking equipment apart for cleaning and putting it back together.
“Now, nothing is going back together. It’s just getting taken further apart,” he said. “It’s quiet.”