Glen Lyn Plant: A history of service

  • Glen Lyn Plant, in operation since 1919, retired May 2015
  • Plant has delivered generations of service, economic impact
  • Repass: "Lord, the time you gave us here was short, but it was good."

Brad Jones, plant manager at Glen Lyn Plant, has worked at the facility for 21 years.

GLEN LYN, Va. – The employees of Glen Lyn Plant, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains along the New River near the border between Virginia and West Virginia, have delivered generations of reliable electricity and service to the region.

This year's closing of the plant brings an end to not only AEP’s oldest and smallest operating unit – Glen Lyn Unit 5, a 95-megawatt unit in operation since 1944 – but to an era extending for nearly 100 years in southwestern Virginia.

The plant, once owned by the Appalachian Power Company – an identically named but different company from today’s Appalachian Power – has been generating electricity since July 1919. At that time, a single 15-megawatt unit went online, supplying electricity to the coal mining industry and small towns in the area. The original owners of Glen Lyn Plant also operated Buck and Byllesby hydro units on the New River, both of which started operation in 1912.

Glen Lyn’s Units 2 and 3, rated at 20 MW each, came online in September 1920 and February 1924, respectively. American Gas & Electric Co. (the name by which AEP was known until 1958) acquired the plant in 1925, and 25-MW Unit 4 entered service in May 1927.

These four units continued to operate together until 1954, when Unit 1 was retired. In 1957, Units 2, 3, and 4 were placed in “cold storage” for potential future use, and Units 3 and 4 were reactivated from 1966 to 1971. The four original turbines and all 13 original boilers were retired in 1971.

Facts about Glen Lyn Plant

  • 5 & 6 (335 MW) capable of net annual generation of more than 1,500,000 megawatthours
  • Plant annual payroll $2.7 million in 2014
  • Local property tax payments about $578,000

The two Glen Lyn units now being retired are Units 5 and 6. Unit 5, a 95-MW unit, entered service in May 1944 and has been the oldest and smallest coal-fired unit on the AEP system. At the time it began operation, it was the largest coal-fired unit in the southeastern United States. The unit set what was then a system record by running for 27 continuous months, from Dec. 12, 1946, to March 30, 1949.

Unit 6 entered service in May 1957, producing 240 MW, more than the five previous units combined. In 1956, prior to entering service, Unit 6 produced an industry first with the first use of a single turbine-driven boiler feed pump integrated into the thermodynamic cycle.

On April 7, 2015, the coal pile for Unit 6 was finally exhausted, and the unit was shut down. Unit 5 was brought online briefly this spring to burn about 1,500 tons of coal dumped into its bunkers but not used last winter. Only a few years ago, when both units ran on a regular basis, the plant consumed 600,000 to 700,000 tons of coal annually, according to Henry Parker, production supervisor.

Plant has played major role in lives of employees, communities

Plant Manager Brad Jones, who arrived at Glen Lyn in 1994 as assistant plant manager from Breed Plant in Indiana, said Glen Lyn has played a major role in the community in terms of social and economic impact.

“This plant has provided employment to multiple generations of families and has touched the lives of nearly everyone in the local communities in some fashion or another," Jones said. "I have 663 names on my list of present and past employees.”

A group picture of employees at Glen Lyn Plant taken following an appreciation luncheon held May 19.

Jones added that people have been the best part of his experience at Glen Lyn. "The part I will miss the most will be that I'll no longer see most of the people I have worked with over the last 21 years," he said. "I am proud of the fact that we accomplished the last five years of winding down plant operations with a good safety record, and that we met the needs of our customers by being available and on line when our generation was needed." He has also enjoyed the history of the plant and involvement in the local communities.

Glen Lyn Plant is the focal point of the village of Glen Lyn, and of Giles County. When the plant was originally built from 1917 to 1919, it boosted the town’s population from 50 to 400. Although many of the plant’s employees have commuted to the plant to work from nearby towns, historically many plant employees have served in the community as elected officials, firefighters, and in many community activities.

"The loss of the plant will have a significant effect on the local tax base as well as losing the incomes of employees who shopped locally," Jones said. "Most people in the community are sad to see the plant close, and have expressed that feeling to those of us who are working here."

The plant is connected to the nation’s two world wars. Construction originally began in 1917, when the country was involved in World War I. Prior to the installation of Unit 5 during World War II in 1944, the unit’s design was ordered to be changed significantly by the War Production Board to save the use of large machine tools and space in the turbine manufacturer’s shop, and to save critical materials needed for the war effort.

In the plant’s very early years, nearly all of its auxiliary equipment was run by steam. That meant if the power went out, workers had to use lanterns to read gauges in the powerhouse. Then they would rap loudly on the pipes to communicate to workers elsewhere -- two raps meant more water, one rap meant to stop.

The Unit 6 high-pressure and low-pressure turbines at Glen Lyn Plant.

Glen Lyn’s first two units were built without the use of welds – all the joints were flanged. It was not until 1924, when Unit 3 was under construction, that welding was first used.

Glen Lyn employees, retirees gather for one last time together

The 30-plus remaining employees of Glen Lyn gathered one last time for lunch in the plant meeting hall May 19. It was probably the last time they will be together as a work team with the plant’s official planned retirement approaching on May 31 and fellow workers beginning to move to new jobs or retirement. "We just thought it would be a good idea to gather all of the employees together as a team one last time without an additional crowd," said Jones.

Long-time Glen Lyn plant employee Mark Repass was asked to offer up the blessing before the meal.

“Lord, the time you gave us here was short,” he prayed. “But it was good.”

That was followed with a number of quiet “amens” and was the overriding theme of most of the employees as they begin to transfer to new jobs or more time at home. A large number of the remaining plant employees have been at Glen Lyn for more than 30 years.

Welder Ricky Miller has been there almost 38 years and said fellow workers are just like family. “Everybody was always out to help each other, but we also enjoyed playing practical jokes,” he said.

The plant and the job became part of his life which will change as he takes early retirement. “You get up every morning and come to Glen Lyn. You don’t know what time you’re getting home. But when you do, you get something to eat and you go to bed. Then you get up and come to Glen Lyn. Now (after retirement), I’m just going to get up.”

There was one more gathering at the plant before its official retirement when retirees mingled with active employees and toured the century-old facility for a last time on May 26. Between 1919 and 2015, almost 700 people were employed at Glen Lyn. About 50 of those who worked in the past were able to attend.

Many guests at the retiree gathering, like Duard Garrison, took one last walk through the plant. He looked over areas that took up much of his working days as a welder and maintenance supervisor. Garrison paid particular attention to the feed pumps that were integral to the operation of the now-quiet Unit 5. He retired in 1989 after 38 years at the plant, and his father-in-law also worked at Glen Lyn.

Others spent time slapping old friends on the back and reminiscing about days gone by.

Fairley Long began working at the plant while still a student at West Virginia University in 1963 and came on fulltime in 1966 after graduation. He retired in 2003 as operations superintendent. While the newest generating unit (Unit 6) was installed almost a decade before his fulltime job, Long saw and oversaw a lot of change and transition at Glen Lyn.

"On the technical side, things were constantly changing at the plant," Long said. "We were generating more efficiently, taking care of environmental issues and working smarter. In the control rooms, we had essentially mechanical recording devices when I started, added analog controls a short time later, and were transitioning to a digital system when I retired."

He observed that some things did not change. "All of the employees during all of those years were friends and team members on the job. We had to work that way or it wouldn't have been a safe place. That never changed," he said.

Glen Lyn has unique connection to movie, engineering book

Glen Lyn Plant has a unique connection to a Hollywood movie and to a book produced by The Ohio State University College of Engineering.

This book details an extensive test of Glen Lyn Plant's systems that took place in late 1921.

“A Beautiful Mind,” starring Russell Crowe, won the Oscar for Best Picture for 2001. The movie focused on the life of the late John F. Nash Jr., a brilliant mathematician who shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. His father, John F. Nash Sr., was an electrical engineer for Appalachian Power.

Nash Sr. was cited for his assistance with the 1922 book, “Test of Glenlyn (sic) Generation Station,” by E.H. Hitchcock, dean of the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, who investigated operating efficiencies at the new plant and produced the book-length detailed report. Several of the photos from the book are included in a slideshow with this article.

“The plant as a whole impresses you with its simplicity, with the ease of accessibility of equipment, the excellent lighting and the ample space for apparatus,” wrote Hitchcock. “During the writer’s experience in plant investigation work covering a period of over 25 years, he has never experienced so much satisfaction in the work due to cleanliness and accessibility.”

Ohio State’s College of Engineering is now housed within Hitchcock Hall, named for the author of the Glen Lyn report. Employees at the plant discovered an original copy of the book and plan to donate the book to the college.