- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - After 63 years, Duke Energy’s Wabash River Generating Station has ceased to produce power.

The station’s last official day to burn coal is Friday, but power producing units on Tuesday were already shut down.

“Our air permits expire on Friday, so we could not burn after that,” said station manager Mike Shryock. “But we shut down our last unit last week.”

Duke Energy is closing power units 2, 3, 4 and 5 and has not made an official decision on power unit 6, which could be converted to use natural gas. That decision will be announced this year, said Duke spokesman Lew Middleton.

The retirement of the coal-fired power plant is part of a 2013 settlement with the Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition, Save the Valley and Valley Watch over issues with air permits at Duke’s Edwardsport power plant.

Additionally, Duke had planned to retire the 1950s-vintage power units as a result of a new federal mercury rule.

At its peak, the power plant, situated on Bolton Road in West Terre Haute, employed 225 workers. As of Tuesday, the plant employed fewer than 50.

“Our goal is to support employees and provide them an opportunity to look for other positions in the company,” said Duke spokesman Lew Middleton.

“These job opportunities may require employees to relocate if they accept a position in another region. All affected employees were also offered an opportunity for severance benefits from the company.”

The shutdown is having an emotional impact on some of long-term workers.

The retirement of the power station “is almost like a divorce for some of the older guys, a bad divorce,” said Larry Slater, 54, who as worked at the facility for the past 18 years. “I think we could turn around and (cry) at any minute. We have busted our butts here. We have had great times and then there are days when the coal is wet or frozen and you spend 12 hours out there on the front line poking holes in the feeder.

“I spent more time here than I have with my family, and it’s all gone,” Slater said. “I know more about these guys than probably I do about my own family. It has been a good bunch of guys to work with,” he said. Slater plans to stay “with Duke and go somewhere. I don’t know where. The good lord has blessed me with this job so he will bless me again,” said Slater, who was raised in Jasonville and lives in Farmersburg.

Bud Bays of Terre Haute has worked at the power station for 36 years. Bays, 60, said he will spend the next two years working with decommission crews to remove equipment from the facility. “It is kinda sad because the units still run good, but rules and regulations have caused this to shut down. This (job) has given me and my family everything that I got,” he said.

During his career, Bays said he has witnessed fires and small explosions, occurrences that diminished as new technology was installed. “We went from the old pneumatic controls, which are air-driven pistons that control the dampers, to electric motors that respond a lot quicker.”

In the early 1980s, “we had duct work that caught on fire in the number 2 unit. We had to get the fire department out here. The fire department was spraying us with water to keep us cooled down,” Bays said.

Station manager Shryock, who is the same age as the power station, said he plans to retire.

Rick Burger, district manager for Duke Energy, said the company will retain the 1,000-acre site, which contains an important power switching station. Additionally, the company will continue to pay taxes on the site and as long as buildings are still standing, Burger said. The power plant, located in Sugar Creek Township, represents the largest assessed tax valuation in the township, said Vigo County Auditor Tim Seprodi.

In the last 50 years, the power plant has paid more than $102 million in property taxes to the county, Burger said, who is also president of the Vigo County Council. “It’s an icon,” Burger said. “This is a plant that has always been online, on time, every time. It has delivered and is a work horse.”

The facility since 1953 has burned 110 million tons of coal, Shryock said. “The vast, vast majority of that coal has come within a 50-mile radius of this site,” he said. Shryock said when it first opened, the property contained a deep shaft coal mine called Viking Coal Mine that provided coal directly to the power plant. An explosion in March 1961 killed 22 people, shuttering the mine, Shryock said.

The power station’s power units went online in 1953, 1958 and 1968.

“We have been a cornerstone of the power generation for Public Service Co., PSI Energy, Cinergy and now Duke Energy,” Shryock said. “The hundreds of jobs that have been here at the station and the thousands of construction jobs over the many, many years have had a significant impact on the Wabash Valley,” he said.

Decommissioning work is now under way, and could take two or more years. The work will remove equipment and address environmental concerns, such as coal piles or fly ash areas. Once that work is completed, then demolition can start, Shryock said.

In 2006, Duke Energy sold Unit 1 at the power station to the Wabash Valley Power Association. That unit produced electricity using synthesis gas from an adjacent coal gasification plant co-owned by WVPA and SG Solutions. Lisa Richardson, spokeswoman for WVPA, said SG Solutions and a steam turbine will be closed by early May.

Wabash Valley Power will, however, operate a natural gas turbine that produces 180 megawatts of electrical power, Richardson said.

While Duke Energy is retiring the Wabash River station, the company’s coal-fired Cayuga power plant, located about 35 miles from the Wabash River station, will remain online, as will a nearby natural gas, peak-power facility.

Both Burger and Shyrock have seen the Wabash River power generating station hustle with activity. On Tuesday, while waiting on an elevator inside the power plant, Burger looked around.

“It’s quiet. I’ve never heard it like this,” Burger said.

“I hate it,” Shryock said.

“The heart beat is gone,” Burger said.

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/1N95q7u

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com


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