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Conesville Plant: Retiring After 62 Years of Service

by on April 29, 2020

  • 62-year-old 1,590-MW Conesville Plant retires May 31
  • Conesville’s Unit 2 began operation Dec. 26, 1957

For 62 years, Conesville Plant has sat along the banks of the Muskingum River, approximately 10 miles downriver from Coshocton, Ohio. For decades, its stacks rising like beacons to those who live and work in the area. The water vapor a sign you were close to home.

When the last of the coal pile is depleted, the familiar steam plumes will fade away. Conesville’s last operating unit, Unit 4, will retire May 31, and the lights will be turned off for the final time.

From that first day in 1957 to today, Conesville employees, will all tell you that the plant is more than just a place to work. You will hear variations of: “We are family.”  “My coworkers are my brothers and sisters.” They were always ready to lend a hand when needed.

They were also very much about giving back to their community. They pride themselves on the relationships that were built over the years. This is evident in the successful Earth Day Celebrations, involvement in the local Boy Scout camp and working to reclaim abandoned mine land nearby, to name just a few.

Some facts about Conesville Plant throughout the years:

  • At the time Unit 4 began operation, it was jointly owned by Cincinnati Gas and Electric (a forerunner of Duke Energy), Columbus Southern Ohio Electric and DP&L. In 2014, Duke Energy sold its stake in Conesville to Dynegy. Three years later in 2017, Dynegy sold its stake in Conesville. DP&L continues to hold a minority ownership of Unit 4 with AEP.
  • Conesville’s five subcritical units, 1, 2, 3, 5 & 6, were re-engineered to either be black start capable or capable to load reject, or both, in order to be ready if the electrical grid would go down.
  • Plant employees hosted countless tours for the community and school children, welcoming 2,000-3,000 people a year.
  • Conesville was an early adopter of the LEAN process. Using the learnings from the process improvement initiative to improve the overall competitiveness and culture of the plant.

The Great Blizzard of 1978

On January 25, 1978, Ohio experienced the worst snowstorm in its history. Conesville Plant continued operation with a skeleton crew for five days, working 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Due to closed roads, these employees were snowed in at the plant during this time. The snow was so bad the employees had to dig out the coal to keep the plant running. When Dave Leppla, plant manager, first arrived at the plant during the storm, he also brought his wife, Wanda and groceries. Both Dave and Wanda stayed the five days and Wanda cooked for the employees who were working to keep the lights on.

Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation

Conesville Power Plant partnered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio State University, and the Ohio Coal Development Office to use the plant’s flue gas desulfurization (FGD) material to eliminate an abandoned mine land (AML) site and improve the environment in Coshocton County.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR)-approved AML project will reclaim this nearly three-fourths mile strip of land from its coal mining past. The project is a partnership between AEP, ODNR, Ohio State University and the Ohio Coal Development Office. This was later expanded into several successful projects and adopted in other parts of the state.

Earth Day Celebrations

For 20 years, Conesville Plant held an outdoor educational event, for students in fifth and sixth grades. Over the years, plant employees and retirees alike assisted with the event. “We’ve always taken a lot of pride in being involved in the community,” said Tom Seward, superintendent of operations. “The Earth Day Celebrations were a way for the plant employees to reach out and make a local impact.”

The largest event was the plant’s last one. In 2019, more than 900 students and teachers participated in activities in and around the plant, Wills Creek Dam and Muskingum County Boy Scout Reservation. Activities over the years included dam tours, demonstrations from the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Office, electrofishing with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, viewing of eagles with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, learning about the plant and its recycling efforts and many more.

Memories from the Conesville Family

“My first assignment at AEP involved a technology demonstration project at Conesville. It was the first coal plant I had ever seen. I had the privilege of working with very talented and dedicated people. I gained an appreciation for Conesville’s proud history and close ties to the community that is common among AEP’s plants.” – Paul Chodak, EVP – Generation

“I remember my first trip to Conesville. It was in the late ‘80s and I had just been named to a new position at Tanners Creek Plant. The Conesville leadership team was kind enough to spend a day and a half sharing with me how they managed the plant on a daily basis. That helpful culture has been a hallmark of the Conesville team for a long, long time.  Most notably, the entire team’s response to Ohio deregulation was outstanding. They lived the kind of ‘can do’ culture that drives successful organizations, despite the overwhelming odds against them. So inspiring. Thanks for the memories Conesville!” – Mark McCullough, EVP – Transmission

“This is a very difficult time for everyone at Conesville. They have worked incredibly hard since becoming a competitive plant in 2014 to bring value to AEP. Their commitment to lean processes, employee engagement, innovation and Zero Harm are to be commended. I know I speak for leaders across AEP when I say that we greatly appreciate all they have done to provide electric supply to their stakeholders in the most reliable and professional manner. All of us at AEP say ‘Thank You.’” – Chuck Zebula – EVP Energy Supply

“I had limited familiarity with the Conesville team prior to the facility becoming part of the unregulated fleet in 2014. The challenges were so big, and yet the response from the team was bigger. Conesville employees became an example for the rest of the fleet in focusing on what they could control and achieving significant results. Clearly there was a long history of accomplishments at Conesville before that time; yet, what I admire most is their legacy of setting fleet standards all the way to closure.“ – Dan Lee, SVP – Fossil & Hydro Generation

“I hold a very special place in my heart for all the employees and contractors I worked with at Conesville Plant. When we moved into the unregulated side of the business into full competition and started our Lean Transformation initiative, the employees fully embraced the challenge and I was able to be a part of the largest culture transformational effort I’ve ever seen. During our culture transformational initiative, I had several employees come to me and tell me we could write books about what was taking place at Conesville, and that was the truth – the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” – Mike Zwick, former plant manager and current managing director for the competitive Fossil Hydro fleet

“Wow! My career at Conesville began over 35 years ago, but in some ways it seems like just yesterday! We’ve had times of great sadness and times of great celebration. I’m proud to say I was a part of the CV Team.” – Susan Shuck, administrative supv.

“My heart aches for our retirees and business partners. We had plans to have a large celebration with all of our former co-workers and business partners who had an impact on making Conesville Plant the gem it is. However, with the COVID-19 impact on gatherings, we will not be able to assemble and share stories and a meal one last time. Our message to all of those great people who passed through this plant as important contributors, ‘thank you!’ We really wanted to get together one last time and want you to know it hurts that it will not happen. On to the next chapter.” – Erich Skelley, a retiree who came back to work as a safety and health consultant

“I was hired at Conesville Plant as an environmental technician. It was an amazing place to learn and grow. The people there were welcoming and took the time to teach me everything I wanted to know. I always thought I would retire from Conesville. When an offer came to transfer to AEP Engineering, I was very unsure if it was the right move but a few of the men I really looked up to advised me that it would be a great opportunity. As usual, they were right and I am grateful, but I often miss working there. It is personally very sad for me to see Conesville shutting down. I will always be grateful for the time I was privileged to work there and the many people who helped me become a better person, engineer and leader.” – Gary Spitznogle, vice president – Environmental Services

“I loved working at Conesville, It was a great place to work, a great place to learn how to better yourself, a great place to realize we are better as a team, and a great place to be part of a family. In the 90s, our plant manager, Dan Lambert, started a cultural transformation that had a positive impact across all of AEP Generation. The focus started with a simple book about building trust, which has had a lifelong impact on me personally, ‘Managing from the HEART’ by Hyler Bracey and Jack Rosenblum. Dan also had us focus on real teamwork and our processes. This really helped finalize the cultural transformation. Before Dan left Conesville, his leadership and our hard work were recognized with the Baldrige Ohio Governor’s Award for Excellence. This was a very proud moment for all of us at the plant. It was in the middle of our culture transformation, when I was inspired to write a song. Earl Duck and myself talked Dan Lambert into letting us perform it for our new boss, Bill Sigmon. Bill must have been ok with it since Earl and I are still employed.”  Brian Scragg, director performance improvement

“When I started in 1989, there were roughly 525 employees at Conesville. We did everything ourselves when it came to outage work; and since Conesville had six units, it seemed like we were always in an outage or planning for one. The better part of my career was on the maintenance side, outage season was our busy time, which meant spending long hours working weekends together. This also meant we spent more of our awake time with coworkers than our families. You learned fast, or the hard way that you have to get along with your coworkers and value their strengths. I will miss the people more than the place when it comes to Conesville!” – Ron Borton, gen apps support spec lead

“I went to work at Conesville upon graduation from college and it was my first real job. I was so nervous to go and start my job there in the chemistry lab. I remember those who worked in the lab at first joked that they had socks older than me, but very quickly accepted me and began to teach me about the plant and their jobs. I will never forget my chem lab family.” – Kimberly Chilcote, fuel buyer staff

“I am happy to say I worked at the plant. It was a tremendous place to work. They were good to me and my family. There’s been really good people, from the leadership on down, although I may be slightly partial to the current manager (Ryan Forbes, current plant manager, is Gary’s son). They are all about safety. They want to make sure when you walk through the door that you go home through that door. We truly are a family. – Gary Forbes, retired material handler

“I have many memories of the plant. I was three years old when my dad first started working at the plant. As kids, we would fish and swim in the ash ponds. In the winter, the employees would shovel off the snow we’d all ice skate and roast hot dogs. I also remember driving to Columbus at Christmastime with my family to see Lazarus and all the lights. My dad would explain to my brother John and me that it was because of Conesville Plant that the lights were on. We were too young to understand at the time. My dad was really proud of that fact.” – Dave Leppla, retired plant operator

“Everybody that worked there was family. They’re the finest men I’ve ever worked with. If somebody needed something, it was taken care of for them. We would tease one another like you would tease your own family members. I could laugh, a full blown, belly laugh every day. That’s what I miss the most since retiring. I miss the funny moments that would happen throughout the day. I could write a book about it. It was unbelievable. Thirty-eight years seems like it flew by.” – John Leppla, retired instrument and control tech

“I don’t know what life without Conesville Power Plant looks like and neither do my wife and kids. All being natives of Coshocton, Ohio, it’s always played a meaningful role in our lives. Frankly, we can’t escape being emotionally impacted from the situation. However, ‘appreciation’ is most of what I’m feeling right now. For more than 62 years, it has given us pride of worthy jobs, stability in local commerce, and really, a sense of belonging. It’s a unique and special bond with the locals, and I’m confident the memories will continue giving. Many area residents have a gravitating connection to the plant and almost all have only a very small degree of separation. Our legacy is going to be a good mix of contribution, loyalty and humor. As not only plant manager, but local community member, I very sincerely thank all who have built the Conesville family and I’m honored to sign off Conesville Power Plant with employees that have a long list of accomplishments and successes of which we are proud!” – Ryan Forbes, plant manager

CONESVILLE PLANT KEY DATES:

Dec. 26, 1957: Conesville Unit 2, 125 MW, began operation with 52 employees.

1959 – Unit 1, also 125 MW, comes on line.

1963 – 165 MW Unit 3 begins operation.

1973: Unit 4, with 780 MW comes on line.

1976: Unit 5, with the first scrubber in Ohio, goes on line.

1978: Conesville reaches full capacity of 1,590 MW with the addition of Unit 6.

1981: American Electric Power purchases Columbus Southern Ohio Electric Co., including Conesville Plant.

1985: Offsite residual waste landfill built to accept by-products from the plant.

Late 1990s: Partnership with Conesville Elementary School wins grants and awards for building state-of-the-art science lab.

2001: Conesville Plant receives Governor’s Award for Excellence.

2004: Innovative project begins to reclaim Abandoned Mine Land (AML).

2005: Units 1 & 2 retire.

2009: Unit 4 goes commercial with a retrofitted Jet Bubble Reactor Scrubber.

2012: Conesville Plant embarks on a Lean Manufacturing transformation journey.

2012: Unit 3 retires.

2014: Conesville Plant moves to competitive generation market.

May 2019: Units 5 & 6 retire.

May 31, 2020: Conesville Unit 4 retires.

Have a memory of Conesville Plant? Share your memories in the comments below.

Current Conesville Plant Contributors: Jeanne Bannister, Carolyn Barr, Mary Daugherty, Earl Duck, Ryan Forbes, Tom Seward, Susan Shuck, Erich Skelley, Dennis Werner.

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One Comment
  1. Very interesting comments from the Conesville plant employees and others. I know the feeling of loss at a plant closure. I started at the Lon Hill station in Corpus Christi in 1957 when it was owned by Central Power and Light Company as part of the Central and South West system prior to the AEP acquisition. I went by to see the plant last weekend only to be surprised when I couldn’t find it rising above the surrounding landscape. Upon googling the plant, I saw a video of it crashing to the ground as it was being dismantled. Many good memories came flooding back into my consciousness. That plant gave me a start into the electric utility business after I finished college and my military service. It gave me needed background for my last assignment in connection with the South Texas Nuclear Project, a plant with a troubled construction history but a magnificent operating life. What a privilege it has been to be a part of the industry and to have worked with so many talented and principled people through the years.

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