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Picway Plant: retiring after 89 years of service

by on April 27, 2015
The coal-fired Picway Plant is located approximately 12 miles south of downtown Columbus, Ohio, along the Scioto River.

(Story by Rachel Hammer)

Picway Plant’s story is about steel, concrete and coal. It’s about boilers and turbines.

Most of all, Picway’s story is about its employees who, over the plant’s 89-year history, worked through innumerable challenges to provide Ohioans with a reliable supply of affordable electric energy. Indeed, their efforts have enabled industry, developed communities and provided families with comfort and convenience.

The plant’s last operating unit, Unit 5, will retire May 31.

               Picway Plant Key DatesOct. 24, 1926 – Picway Units 1 and 2, 30,000 kilowatts (kW) each, began operation to assure “the City of Columbus … an ample generating capacity in a plant advantageously located, designed in accordance with the latest power station practices and capable of producing power most economically.”

1943 – Unit 3, also 30,000 kW, finally comes on line. Its original service date was March 1942, “However, owing to the many priority problems growing out of the war emergency, the necessary materials were not received on time, therefore delaying completion of the project…” for one year. It is unconfirmed that the #3 turbine had been built for, but not used by, the Navy war effort.

1949 – 30,000 kW Unit 4 begins operation.

November 1955 — The plant reaches its full capacity of 220,000 kW with the addition of the 100,000 kW Unit 5.

1972 – 1981 – Units 1-4 retire.

May 2015 – Picway 5 retires.

The spirit and resourcefulness of Picway employees has kept Unit 5 operating as long as it has. They met challenges that would be significant at any time, but are particularly noteworthy because many occurred far into the unit’s operating life.

Picway employees clearly demonstrated their tenacity in the 1999/2000 timeframe when changes in the industry brought new approaches to generation dispatch and only the most efficient and cost-effective units would operate. They were challenged to adopt “new, competitive-type thinking” to find ways to keep the unit competitive and be able to respond more effectively to needs. And respond they did.

“Employees initiated numerous creative and aggressive actions to help the plant survive. Every one of them clearly demonstrated a commercial-like business approach to generating electricity,” said former plant manager John Mazzone, now managing director, Fleet Performance and I&M.

In this timeframe, Picway:

  • Became the first AEP plant to institute sub-minimum loading by achieving a 10 percent load, allowing it to stay online and dramatically reduce out-of-merit or off-peak cost operation;
  • Tuned its controls to achieve the fleet’s fastest load ramping, reducing startup and shut down times by several hours and allowing the unit to respond to system load conditions, strengthening its ancillary value;
  • Increased its versatility by making adjustments needed to be able to burn a wider variety of coals (low sulfur), which also provided the plant with valuable sulfur dioxide credits;
  • Minimized load curtailments due to pulverizer outages for rebuilds or repairs by revising operating mill motor amp limits; and
  • Improved processes to safely achieve a record-setting superheater tube repair — 13 hours from breaker to breaker.


As a result, in 2000, Picway Plant went from last in AEP’s dispatch order at ~$28 per megawatthour, to a middle-of-the-pack ~$16/MWh.

Early history: coal by rail

In its early years, Picway received its coal by rail. The plant’s extensive rail system included a rotary dumper to flip the cars to empty their loads.

Initially, electric locomotives provided coal and ash handling. One locomotive was powered by steam rather than coal. It could take a charge of steam directly from one of Picway’s boilers generally sufficient to operate for the rest of the day.

In 1955, the line was converted from steam to diesel.The company discontinued rail deliveries to Picway with the retirement of two units in 1972.

The rail system was called back into action briefly during the blizzard of 1978. Trucks could not get through the snow. Picway employees met the challenge with a creative solution: they rented a locomotive and again received coal by rail.

The tracks have since been removed; the ties sold. The railroad bridge over Route 23 also has been demolished.

On June 22, 1951, fire broke out in Picway Unit 3, taking the entire plant out of service.

1951: Unit 3 fire

At 1:59 p.m. on June 22, fire broke out in Picway Unit 3. The entire plant was disabled, representing a loss of 37.5 percent of Columbus & Southern Ohio Electric Company’s rated generating capacity.

Cyril Stickel, a 39-year employee, was taking his 2 p.m. reading in the turbine room and was about 20 feet away from the #3 turbine when the blast occurred. He ran to the office and yelled that the turbine was on fire.

According to the incident report, the fire occurred “when a thermometer-well worked loose in the bearing oil pressure line at the turbine floor near the governor mechanics, spraying the oil onto a hot surface of the turbine…The intense heat melted window glass, burned through a section of roof and warped roof trusses, inflicting extensive damage to the building by partial collapse of roof sidewalls. Practically all control cables and switchboards were destroyed.” There were no injuries.

Most interesting, according to a July 12 press release, “Service interruption was substantially minimized by the splendid assistance and cooperation of the Ohio Power Company. An interconnection with the company’s system west of Lancaster, Ohio, was completed within a few hours after the fire….” With temporary installation of “thousands of feet of control wiring and manually operated switchboards, one unit was restored to service on June 18, a second unit on June 30, and a third on July 8.”

Picway Plant also experienced much smaller switchgear fires in the 1990s.

Scioto River flooding

Picway Plant employees worked through at least two major flooding events.

1959 flood — Retiree Stickel was working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift in February 1959. Drenching rains falling on frozen ground created heavy runoff and flooding on the Scioto River and Big Walnut Creek.

“The power plant area was flooded and became isolated except for the rail system, which washed out later that night and was no longer useable. The water also washed out part of the rail trestle over Route 23, along with the southbound lanes.

“We were isolated for two days and unable to get any relief, help or even food.

“There was an employee with severe diabetes who needed his medication. The company contacted the Ohio National Guard and they used a helicopter to bring in the medication he needed.

“We (our shift) were able to go home two days later by riding a farm wagon through four-feet-deep water out to Route 23 and to our cars which had been moved before it flooded.”

In 2005, water from the Scioto River entered Picway through piping that had been retired but not capped.

2005 flood — Picway employees addressed a critical situation in 2005 when the Scioto River flooded. The water level rose to the point that water flowed into the plant through out-of-service piping that had not been capped, flooding the basement level.

Wet coal also challenged the plant, yet employees maintained the unit at minimum load with all four pulverizers in service. Employees later took the unit out of service as the water level approached the electrical panel. Had service to the fuel oil pumps been lost, operators would not have been able to stabilize the flames inside the furnace, creating a threat of explosion.

The blizzard of January 1978

The storm started Wednesday night and was in full force when Stickel arrived for the 7 a.m. shift. By mid-afternoon, only one or two workers were able to get to the plant, so most of the first shift stayed and worked through the next 16 hours.

“By Friday, we got minimal relief, but not enough for a full shift, so we had to nap and keep going through Friday and on to Saturday,” Stickel said. “We finally got a full shift relief on Saturday and could then go home, which was not easy because of the snow drifts.”

Stickel added that they used a bulldozer to go the nearest restaurant – LeMays in Shadesville – for food late on Friday. “Not exactly legal, but it worked,” he said.

Walnut peaking units

For many years, Picway Plant remotely managed the gas-peaking units located on the site of the old Walnut Steam Plant in Groveport, currently part of the Dolan Laboratories campus. The jet engines were black start units.

* * *

The dedication, focus and teamwork of Picway Plant staff, along with the size and location of the unit, supported Picway’s selection to host a number of process tests over the years.

                Picway 5 Construction

Unit 5 took approximately two years and $13 million to build. The project required 1,500 tons of steel and 11,600 cubic yards of concrete. In addition to expanding the plant’s main building, a 143-foot tall open steel structure was built to support the outdoor-type boiler. The turbo-generator weighed more than 400 tons.

Unit 5’s general contractor was Townsend and Bottum, Inc., of Michigan, and electrical work was by The Electric Power Equipment Company of Columbus.

The dedication, focus and teamwork of Picway Plant staff, along with the size and location of the unit, supported Picway’s selection to host a number of process tests over the years.

Picway AED project

In the 1980s, Picway was the test site for a coal-cleaning project that could “lead to an alternative technology for long-term utilization of Ohio coal.” It was the first in-line application of a dry electrostatic process developed by Advanced Energy Dynamics (AED). Approximately 10 percent of the coal burned was processed through the test tower built next to the boiler structure.

At this time, through AEP’s Energy Services group, AEP contracted engineering, design and, in Picway’s case, plant operations in a consulting role to outside parties. Plant staff members embraced this project and provided services in order to increase the plant’s operations usefulness. While the process was a unique technology application, the can-do attitude of employees was the biggest benefit of this project, noted Kevin Stogran, now manging director, Cyber Risk and Security Services.

On the selection of Picway for this project, Stogran said, “As the Energy Services project manager for the AED project, I knew Picway staff was willing and able to provide effectives services to AED.” He noted that Picway employees’ positive attitude carried on throughout the plant’s operational life.

Alternative fuel burns

Picway 5 also hosted two biomass co-fire projects. The purpose of the projects was to reduce fuel costs and emissions, as well as produce renewable energy. One test involved waste sawdust blended with coal. The second project fired a wood and grass “pellet” product.

The tests were successful. However, the economics were not favorable and the projects did not move to commercialization.

Picway also tested biodiesel to assist the company in the generation of Renewable Energy Credits.

Initial testing began in May 2010. The final technology demonstration was to start up the unit from a cold start. It was successfully completed on the first attempt in June 2010. Picway burned biodiesel until mid-2013.

It wasn’t exactly an alternative fuels burn, but in 1974, the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office called upon Picway to help destroy about 275 pounds of heroin, cocaine and marijuana with value of about $2.3 million.

Environmental stewardship

Picway Plant employees always went the extra mile for environmental compliance and stewardship. They established a good working relationship with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

For example, in the 1970s, while most power plants in the state were required to conduct a 316(b) fish impingement study, Picway was not required to do so.

Ohio EPA conducted several water quality/biological studies in the Scioto River at Picway over the years.

In the 1980s, EPA was concerned about the impacts of two City of Columbus sewage plants. As Picway is immediately downstream of the facilities, EPA conducted its water quality tests there. EPA concluded its studies in 1996, at which time it indicated that the river met all applicable water-quality standards.

In the 1990s, Picway Plant provided Class C fly ash as the key ingredient of the backfill material Flash Fill. When Picway (and other units) later added low NOx burners, the properties of its fly ash became less attractive for use in Flash Fill. AEP sold its Flash Fill business and trademark in 2011.

In 2004, Picway Plant hosted the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and the National Turkey Federation’s annual wild turkey release. Approximately 30 wild turkeys, once considered endangered, were released at the plant site.

                 Why Picway?Picway Plant is located in Pickaway County, Ohio, so why is the plant’s name Picway? No one seems to know for sure. One explanation is that one of the firms involved in early design and construction was based in another state. Unfamiliar with the Ohio names, Picway may have simply been the result of a misspelling. Please comment if there is another explanation.

The Picway family

Through the years, it has been the spirit of its employees that kept the plant humming.

“This plant has improved the livelihoods of thousands of people,” said John Zyvonoski, control technician senior and one of two employees still on assignment at Picway.

“Picway has always been a family,” said Ted Greene, maintenance supervisor, also on assignment at Picway. “We have always been a close-knit team. Whenever an issue came up, we would work together and do our best to get around it.”

“There have been a lot of laughs, and a lot of crying,” Zyvonoski added.

“I can honestly say that my time and experiences at Picway Plant are some of the fondest of my career,” said Mazzone. “During the time I was at Picway, I believe there was more accomplished there than at any other facility I have ever witnessed.

“There were people who wanted us to close and employees could easily have just packed it in,” he continued. “Instead, they responded to the burning platform and blew everyone away. In my mind, their buy-in to our plan and their actions to execute it, bought Picway an additional 15 years of life and added significant load-following value to AEP’s grid management.”

“The few employees and contractors charged with operating Picway Plant toward the end were very dedicated. They were full of pride for all that they had accomplished over the years and what they were accomplishing in the last few days of operation, and appropriately so,” said Mike Zwick, who became Picway Plant manager following the passing of Mark Borman in 2011. “It was truly amazing watching the dedication of the employees, even as they knew the plant’s run days were limited.” The plant most recently operated through the summer and early fall of 2013.

“One employee told me, ‘We just want to go out of service in style,’ and in my eyes they achieved this goal at the highest level.”

Zwick concluded, “It has been a great honor to be a very small part of the plant life . . . with the credit of the great operational history going out to all the dedicated employees that have served Picway Plant over its life. Great job!”

Contributors: Claudia Banner, Joe Bittinger, Ted Greene, Jim Henry, John Mazzone, Vikki Michalski, Butch (Harold) O’Brien, Walt Raub, Robin Reash, Kevin Stogran, Cyril Stickel, Clinton Stutler, Mike Zwick, John Zyvonoski.

  1. Very nice article! Please make sure that the Pickaway County Historical Society obtains pictures, displays and/or any other memorabilia possible. They will maintain it and keep it as a part of their areas long history.

  2. My name is Larry Neal, I worked at Picway during the 1959 flood, think I know why Picway was called Picway Plant. There is/was a group of houses approx. 3/4 of a mile south of the plant entrance on Rt. 23 named Picway. I don’t even know if the approx.5-6 house are still there or not. When I worked at Picway there was a restaurant called Picway Inn,the owner lived in a house next door,and there were 4-5 more houses there. They were located up on a hill,the old Rt. 23 went through this little town,even though it was not incorporated.My Grandfather helped build Picway back in the 1920’s even before Rt. 23 was 4 lanes, the original 2 lane road went through this little town. I left Picway in 1962 and transferred to Conesville Station where I retired in 1996 after 44 years service. Picway was like a family to me as well as many others. It is sad to see it retire,but like all things that change,nothing stands still. I just thought I would relate my information about Picway Plant,and the fact that I only worked there 10 years it does have happy memories for me.

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