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Muskingum River Plant has been economic stalwart in southeastern Ohio for over 61 years

by on May 5, 2015
AEP’s Muskingum River Plant — a large, five-unit, coal-fired power generation facility on the edge of Appalachia in southeastern Ohio’s Morgan and Washington counties — will be retired in May.

(Story by Dave Waitkus and Vikki Michalski)

The closing of AEP’s Muskingum River Plant in May will signal the end of a long, eventful and prosperous era in southeastern Ohio.

Muskingum River Plant consists of five generating units with total net generating capacity of 1,425 megawatts. Unit 5, which began operating in 1968, is the plant’s only supercritical unit. The unit is equipped with low-nitrogen oxide burners and a selective catalytic reduction system to address nitrogen oxide emissions. It also has electrostatic precipitators to capture particulate emissions.

The plant is situated along Ohio’s Muskingum River near the communities of Beverly and Waterford. Units 1-4 are located in Morgan County, while Unit 5 is in Washington County. Currently, 95 employees work at the plant site, with about 80 specifically on the plant payroll.

When AEP first announced its fleet transition plan in 2011, the company said it would retire Muskingum River Plant units 1 through 4. At that time, the company said it intended to refuel Unit 5 to natural gas and reduce the unit’s capacity. On July 11, 2013, AEP announced that the 585-megawatt Unit 5 would close, as well.

A 28-year veteran at Muskingum River Plant, Nate Long assumed the role of plant manager in August 2012.

“Employees clearly understand units 1-4 have reached their end of life. But they were hopeful we would convert Unit 5 to natural gas,” said Nate Long, plant manager at Muskingum River since 2012. “History shows Unit 5 to be one of the best units in AEP’s generation fleet.  Unfortunately, the economics and future market projections do not support the conversion.”

At the plant’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2003, Randy Bragg, former longtime production services leader, summed up the working experience at the facility.

“It’s been an excellent run,” Bragg said. “It’s the only job I’ve really ever had. I started here three weeks after leaving the Army. It’s been a good place to be. There have been some bumps, but we’ve gotten through them. I’ve had a lot of fun. I feel very blessed to have this job. We live in an age and a region where good jobs are at a premium. I have a great one.”

Dan Kohler, who served as plant manager at Muskingum River from 1997-2007, credited Muskingum River’s first 50 years to the strong work ethic of employees and pride in doing their jobs.

Construction on Muskingum River Plant’s Unit 5 began in 1966.

“Success at Muskingum River is an employee tradition based on skills developed during their careers and a willingness to be innovative to continue to move our plant along with what the current market will support,” Kohler said. “It’s been 50 years, but employees’ skills are matched and change right along with technology. We have to be flexible and adaptable to meet the challenge of constant change. It’s not without sacrifice and pain.”

Muskingum River was AEP’s newest coal-fired power plant in 1953 when it began generating 205 megawatts of electricity along the western banks of the Muskingum River in southern Morgan County. The new plant — a mine-mouth facility — received its fuel by overland conveyor from the former AEP-owned and now closed Central Ohio Coal Company. By the late 1950s, the plant was producing 840 megawatts of power from four units. Muskingum River quickly had become an economic force and a primary employer in the surrounding small communities.

In 1968, Muskingum River Plant expanded into Washington County and became one of Ohio’s largest generating facilities when its new 585-megawatt supercritical unit began operating. With the addition of Unit 5, the plant’s power production capabilities grew to 1,425 megawatts, and it began consuming more than 3.5 million tons of coal annually.

The construction of Unit 5 was the catalyst for Central Ohio Coal’s expansion as well, resulting in the construction of the world’s largest walking dragline — the Big Muskie. The huge machine — retired in 1991 and dismantled in 1999 — was built in the late 1960s to help meet Muskingum River Plant’s huge appetite for coal.

In addition to precipitators, the installation of low-nitrogen oxide –or low-NOx burners — and the switch from high-sulfur to low-sulfur coal on Unit 5, the installation of a dust suppression system for coal transfer chutes and new coal sources for units 1-4 further reduced the plant’s effects on the environment.

The construction of Unit 5 at Muskingum River Plant was the catalyst for Central Ohio Coal’s expansion as well, resulting in the construction of the world’s largest walking dragline — the Big Muskie.

Muskingum River’s recycling program also dramatically reduced the amount of discarded material that had previously been landfilled. Coal ash and boiler slag generated during combustion was reprocessed for use in paints, plastics, roofing shingles, aggregate replacement and blasting grit. The plant also recycles used oil, paints, paper, cardboard, pallets, aluminum cans, fluorescent lamps and batteries.

Those efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1999, Muskingum River became the first power generation facility to receive the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Governor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Pollution Prevention.

In 2004, Unit 5 added a $98 million selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system. SCR is the most effective current technology for reducing nitrogen oxides (NOx) from coal-fired flue gases.

Business of the Year

In 2005, Muskingum River Plant was named the “Business of the Year” by the Muskingum Valley Area Chamber of Commerce “for contributing daily to the quality of life we´ve come to take for granted.”

In accepting the award, Kohler said, “We are proud of our community and do the things we do every day because we believe they are the right things to do. Functioning as a business with as little negative impact on the community as possible and giving back has been a long-term goal of the plant. Many of our employees volunteer their time in a variety of community areas such as firefighters, EMTs, village council members and board of directors of various organizations.”

The following contributions were among those cited in the award that began with “this business”:

  • Is a major contributor to the local economy, with 250 employees and an annual payroll of more than $20 million;
  • Has demonstrated its continued commitment to the area through the investment of nearly $100 million in new environmental control equipment;
  • Is an environmental steward, protecting air and water quality and employee and public safety through the reduction in use of hazardous chemicals and other materials and through recycling;
  • Is the first of its kind to be recognized by Gov. Bob Taft and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for Outstanding Achievement in Pollution Prevention;
  • Is a Wildlife Habitat Council-certified wildlife habitat;
  • Is a major sponsor of Beverly´s new Veterans Memorial;
  • Is a gold-level sponsor for the American Cancer Society´s Relay for Life for Washington, Morgan and Noble counties;
  • Supports our children by providing outdoor environmental education opportunities, funding for recognition for scholastic, athletic and musical accomplishments and endeavors, and assistance with the development of grant programs.
    In 2011, Muskingum River Plant employees celebrated two full years without an OSHA recordable incident.

Also in November 2005, plant employees celebrated “One Million Safe Workhours” without a disabling injury. Employees followed up that accomplishment by completing two full years without an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordable injury Dec. 4, 2011.

Mark McCullough, executive vice president – Generation, captured his feeling about the significance of the milestone:

“WOW! This is an OUTSTANDING accomplishment. Thanks to everyone at Muskingum for placing safety where it belongs — right up front. This is an incredible testimony that Zero Harm is possible in any circumstance. Performance like this doesn’t just happen, it takes passion, commitment and diligence on a daily basis. Maintaining this level of performance is just as hard or harder than getting there in the first place. Congratulations to you all.”

“It’s hard to put in to words what Muskingum River Plant has meant to so many over the last 61 years,” Long concluded. “So many former employees made a good living and raised their families here. The plant has been an economic staple in the local communities and in southeastern Ohio. And for AEP, Muskingum River Plant has been a source of safe, reliable power while maintaining a high level of environmental excellence. Now it’s time to move on.”

From → News From AEP

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