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North Dakota winters present challenges to BNI Coal’s Center Mine

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 1:59 PM 0

Extreme weather conditions are part of living in North Dakota. It is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Those temperature extremes are also when electric customers use the most power, which means the power plants need a dependable source of fuel. For the Milton R. Young Station, the supplier for the past 40 years has been BNI Coal’s Center Mine.

Winter conditions present challenges to the employees of the Center Mine, but it also has its advantages including stable road surfaces that make it easier for haulers to navigate the mine site.

At the Center Mine, near Center, North Dakota, the employees know all about changing seasons and the changes in operations to meet the seasonal challenges.

“Cold winter weather means more stress for both employees and equipment,” said Mike Heger, production manager at the Center Mine. “The weather changes, but the things that remain constant at the mine are a focus on safety and our culture to do things right.”

Heger says that winter actually has a couple of advantages to mining coal. One is that employees are generally at work because they take their vacations in the summer when the weather is nice. The second is that the ground is firm, which helps big earth-moving equipment when it’s traveling or moving earth.

The challenges are snow storms and extremely cold weather, such as minus 20 degrees, he said. Blizzards can shut a mine down because of lack of visibility. Also extremely cold weather is hard on equipment because frozen steel can become brittle.

Mike Heger, production manager for BNI Coal’s Center Mine.

“If it gets below minus 20, we’ll shut the dragline down rather than risk the equipment or the operators,” he added. The dragline is the largest earth-moving equipment at the mine and removes the clay that overlays the beds of coal.

Reclamation activities, such as spreading or collecting top soil or subsoil, stop during the winter. However, miners will use bulldozers to level spoil peaks left from mining activities and grade them to contours that will allow other reclamation activities to resume when spring weather returns.

Despite the challenges, the employees continue digging coal to meet the fuel requirements of the adjacent Young Station, which includes two separate units. During the year, the mine can supply up to 4.5 million tons of lignite coal.

Lignite – a soft coal that is about a third water – provides the energy to turn the water in the power plant’s boiler into a pure stream of steam that is used to turn a turbine and generate electricity. The Young Station provides electricity mostly to rural electric customers in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.

BNI employs about 170 workers, with about 70 of them working per shift along with the office and support people. Normally, the dragline works 24-hours per day uncovering coal, but Heger said the mine shuts down for major holidays such as Christmas.

“It’s important that are employees spend Christmas with their families so we adjust schedules to make sure that we have enough coal stockpiled for the power plant to allow our employees time away from the mine,” Heger said.

About one-third of the miners at BNI Coal have worked there more than 30 years while about two-thirds joined in the last 10 years to replace many of the people who started working at the mine in the 1970s when the Young Station was built and the Center Mine began supplying fuel.

“Working in the lignite industry is a profession that people like because of the high wages, the benefits and the safe working conditions,” he added. “As the workforce has changed, we have worked very hard to maintain our focus on culture and safety, and we have been able to find new employees with experience in both mining and using large equipment.”

“Our customer is the Young Station and they expect us to deliver the fuel they need to operate reliably,” Heger said. “Our employees work hard and take great pride in what they do. Whether it’s a cold winter, a muddy spring or a hot summer, we’ve a proven track record of providing fuel that is low cost and delivered right to the power plant.”

BNI Coal is a subsidiary of ALLETE, which is headquartered in Duluth, Minnesota. ALLETE is also the parent company of Minnesota Power.


Article sourced from Lignite Energy Council located here: