Sporn Plant ranked among world leaders in steam-electric generating efficiency

  • The Philip Sporn Plant began operation in the post-World War II years, during a time of increasing demand for electricity. Located along the Ohio River near New Haven, the coal-fired plant was named after the president of AEP from 1947-61.
  • In 1950, Sporn was the first power plant in the world to have a heat rate below 10,000 Btus per kWh of generation.

NEW HAVEN, W.Va. For 65 years, AEP's Philip Sporn Plant provided low-cost energy for thousands of homes, businesses, schools and industries.

Sporn was one of three coal-fired power plants Appalachian Power Company shut down in West Virginia May 31 due to environmental regulations. Appalachian Power's Kanawha River Power Station at Glasgow, W.Va., and the Kammer Power Station near Moundsville, W.Va., were the other two.

Sporn Plant began operation in the post-World War II years, during a time of increasing demand for electricity. Located along the Ohio River near New Haven, the coal-fired plant was named after the president of AEP from 1947-61. He was instrumental in AEP becoming a major electric utility enterprise.

Philip Sporn was president of AEP from 1947-61.

Sporn Plant was comprised of five units. Unit 1 began operation in 1949 with commercial operation in 1950. Unit 2 also began operation in 1950. The third unit began service in 1951 and the fourth unit came on line one year later. Unit 5 began operating in 1960. Each of the first four units generated 150,000 kilowatts of electricity, while Unit 5 generated 450,000 kilowatts.

From the AEP history book And There was Light, "When the Sporn Plant was dedicated on a sunny July 27, 1950, some 600 invited guests overflowed the big tent put up for the occasion, and another 4,000 people from a radius of more than 200 miles toured the plant during a public open house the following two days. At the dedication, West Virginia Governor Okey L. Patteson paid tribute to the man for whom the plant had been named:

'The enormity of this modern electric power plant is beyond the comprehension of any of us. It takes men of Philip Sporn's ability and vision, not only to dream of such an undertaking but to make it a reality.'

"In his response, President Sporn made a strong case for private enterprise:

'Private enterprise and initiative developed our physical frontiers and made possible the growth and development of this country to its present status. Private enterprise, initiative, daring and resourcefulness have, as we have seen here, been opening up our new technological frontiers. Enterprise built this country and made it strong. Only enterprise can assure our being able to continue strong and secure.'

 

Since beginning operation, the Sporn units consistently ranked among the world leaders in steam-electric generating efficiency. In 1950, Sporn was the first power plant in the world to have a heat rate below 10,000 Btus per kWh of generation. When it was built, Unit 5 was among the largest generating units in operation. It also was one of the first generating units to utilize the efficiencies of high steam pressures.

Sporn Plant featured in Electrical World

The entire leader section of the June 5, 1950, issue of Electrical World magazine was devoted to an illustrated series of articles on the features of Philip Sporn plant. Reprints of the collection were made for AEP's operating companies and distributed at the dedication of the plant.

Sporn Unit 5 was one of the first supercritical-design generating units AEP installed. When installed, it was 73 percent larger than any generating unit then in operation.

The company originally slated Unit 5 for closure in December 2013 as part of the New Source Review settlement. But after an assessment of the unit’s condition, AEP moved Sporn 5 to a forced outage condition on September 6, 2011, meaning it was no longer offered into the PJM market for capacity and/or energy. AEP Feb. 13, 2012, officially retired Sporn Plant Unit 5.

"The employees at Sporn understood the role of the plant once the decision was made to shut down the plant in June 2015," said Debra Osborne, plant manager. "They focused attention on safety, environmental and compliance items and minimized any unnecessary spending."

Hundreds of employees have contributed to Sporn's great history. Retiree Mark Ward was one of the plant's first employees. "When I started, the plant was still under construction," Ward said. "It did not look like it does today. Unit 1 had not even been fully insulated when I began working at Sporn." Ward worked at Sporn Plant until he retired in 1976. He helped bring all five units online.

Earl Keefer, who retired as a chemist, was also at Sporn during its first days of operation. When Keefer started with the plant, he made $1.17 an hour. Keefer said some of his most memorable moments involved Sporn himself. "Philip Sporn would visit the plant and shake hands with each of the employees," Keefer said. "It was great to be able to see and talk with him."

Keefer also recalled the anticipation that Thanksgiving day in 1949 when an employee named Keith Arnold threw the switch to put Unit 1 on line. "The plant was a good place to work," Keefer said of his 34 years there. "I really enjoyed working with my fellow employees."

Throughout Sporn Plant's long tenure, one thing remained constant: skilled employees helped produce electric power for the AEP System. They did it efficiently and safely, while also taking time to serve the community in which they worked.

Decades of community service

Employees at Sporn also were always quick to lend a helping hand in the community, no matter how big or small the event.

For example, in 2006, plant employees made a donation of 20 crates of bedding items to local organizations. The Tri-County Boy Scouts of America, the local American Red Cross, and a camp located in Point Pleasant, W.Va., were recipients of the pillows, blankets, mattresses and sheets.

(From left) Guyla Walburn, Sam Hawley, Jill LaValley, Marlene Johnson and Stacie Stewart sold refreshments and snacks at Sporn to help raise funds for charitable organizations. Photo by Trena Riffle.

That same summer, the "Almost Heaven" custom motorcycle, built by West Virginia boilermaker and motorcycle craftsman Robbie "Bear" Parsons, was on display June 22 in the Sporn Plant shop area. The bike toured West Virginia and raffle tickets were sold, with all proceeds benefiting the Shriners Children´s Hospitals.

The next year, employees loaded backpacks with school supplies and delivered them to local school children in need.

Whether they were raising funds for the American Cancer Society in the Relay For Life event or supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by participating in the Light the Night Walk, Sporn employees always turned out to help those in need.

"Employees at AEP are great about helping others in need," said Dan Edwards, retired plant system owner senior. "When we organize activities, the employees are always there with their support. It makes the work and the efforts very worthwhile."

"The unit reliability continued to surpass what was expected of a dispositioned plant," concluded Osborne. "There was a lot of flexibility shown by employees when schedules or assignments were changed to meet needs for the maintenance or operation of the units.

"The fact that three of the units operated when called upon the very last week is a tribute to all 65 years of Sporn employees and their hard work and dedication."

(Thanks to Walt Raub for supplying historical information for this story.)