Kanawha River Plant provided economical, locally-abundant coal-fired energy for 62 years

  • Plant closed May 31 after 62 years of dedicated service
  • Kanawha River Plant held numerous efficiency records in the 1950s

Plant manager Aaron Sink at Kanawha River Plant.

In the 1950s, coal began a 50-year run as the fastest growing fuel source for electric power generation. Appalachian Power Company’s Kanawha River Plant joined that run in 1953, generating electricity from economical and locally-abundant coal throughout its 62-year life.

Now, as the U.S. moves away from coal and other fossil fuels, the Glasgow, W.Va., plant is powering off and closing its doors.

Kanawha Plant Construction Facts & Design Specs

Construction began Oct. 1950

In service:

  • Unit 1 – July 17, 1953
  • Unit 2 – Dec. 31, 1953
  • Construction jobs: 1,800 at peak
  • Estimated cost: $46 million
  • Concrete: 53,000 cubic yards
  • Structural steel: more than 6,600 tons
  • Each 200-MW unit estimated to serve about 275,000 households of “average demands.”
  • The two units combined estimated to be able to serve a city the size of Philadelphia.
  • Estimated coal use: about 1.08 million tons per year.
  • Boiler height: 123 feet
  • Boiler space requirements: 56 x 60 feet each
  • Operating steam pressure: 2,075 pounds per square inch
  • Rated steam output: 1,335,000 pounds per hour.
  • Water use: 140,000 gallons of Kanawha River water per condenser per minute.

Kanawha River Plant’s two 200-megawatt (MW) units were the first in a series of five such units. The other units in the series – Muskingum River units 1 and 2 and Tanners Creek Unit 3 – also are retiring at this time.

Kanawha River was initially envisioned as having five 175-MW units. The water circulation tunnels and coal belts were built to serve a plant of that size. However, at some point the decision was made to place three of the units elsewhere.

The company introduced the new Kanawha River Plant at a Press Day tour Aug. 18, 1953.

There are many ways to describe Kanawha River Plant and the employees who have operated and maintained it over the years. Here are just a few:

Kanawha River Plant: Efficient

During its operating life, Kanawha River Plant was recognized on several occasions for its efficiency as measured by heat rate, which is the measure used to determine how efficiently the plant converts the energy in fuel (coal) into electric energy.

According to the Federal Power Commission, Kanawha River was the most efficient plant in the U.S. in 1953, 1954 (9,113 Btu) and 1957. It was the most efficient plant on the AEP system in 1958.

Kanawha River Plant was the second most efficient plant in the world in 1956, the year in which the world’s top five most efficient plants were all engineered by the same organization: AEP.

Kanawha River Plant: Responsible

At the time of construction, a company news release stated, “The plant is equipped with the most modern, highly efficient equipment for the removal of fly ash from combustion gases. Located on the roof is a combination mechanical-electrostatic precipitator for each unit. The precipitators trap the particles of fly ash contained in the gases before they come from the stacks….It is expected that about 95 percent of the fly ash will be removed this way. The small percentage remaining, which will be exceedingly fine, will be dissipated in the upper atmosphere.”

Kanawha River Plant: Leader

AEP's marketing of coal combustion products had its roots at Kanawha River. The plant was the first in the AEP system to be built using fly ash-based concrete. And in the early 1960s, when most utilities considered ash as a waste product to be disposed of, plant manager Henry Skaggs wrote, "Fly ash should be thought of as a useful byproduct of coal that can be utilized if quality controlled."

With the conversion of the plant's ash-handling equipment to a dry system and under Skaggs' quality control guidance, the plant produced an ash suitable for use in the manufacture of concrete. The product was marketed to concrete companies, and in less than a decade, sales of Kanawha River ash soared from zero to nearly 40,000 tons. Skaggs' success earned him a reputation as the "father of fly ash sales," and led to the creation of AEP's Ash Management section.

While most of Kanawha River Plant’s fly ash was used for the production of concrete, it also went to other beneficial uses. Several area residential and commercial projects stand on ash structural landfills. And in nearby Fayette County, an ash grout pumped into worked-out mine cavities stabilizes the ground near the base of the New River Gorge Bridge.

Complete ash utilization allowed Kanawha River to operate without a structural ash landfill. Even ash that was not sold was hauled back to an active mine site and used in mine reclamation work.

Kanawha River Plant: Innovative

Teamwork has always been key at Kanawha River Plant.

In 1991, Kanawha River faced two major condenser retubing outages – jobs that would normally call for specialized, outside labor. At the time, however, the plant was severely underutilized, so employees took on the projects essentially on their own. Employees from each of the plant's work groups united and successfully worked to improve their plant.

In 1995, the group took its show on the road, first to Amos Plant to retube two condensers and repair a precipitator, then to Gavin to perform coal yard repairs. At the time, plant manager Mike Siemiaczko said, "People wondered whether a team with such diverse skills and backgrounds could work together. In both cases, our employees worked well together, got the job done right and saved the company some money."

This activity seems to have led to the plant catching a second wind. Old equipment was repaired or replaced, operating costs were reduced and safety performance improved. That year, the plant took some big steps forward. Internal reorganization allowed employees to make repairs on a more timely basis. Siemiaczko said the teams bonded well, and the plant was utilized more often.

Kanawha River Plant: Resourceful

This wasn’t the only time Kanawha River Plant employees demonstrated resourcefulness in getting the job done. Deb Osborne, who was plant manager from 2012-2013, recalled that when the July 2012 derecho took out the microwave system that supported telephone service to the plant, the active team leader maintained contact with generation dispatchers in Columbus via his personal cell phone.

With installation of an E-Crane in 2008, the plant could again receive coal by barge, increasing its delivery options.

Kanawha River Plant: Adaptable

While Kanawha River relied predominately on local coal delivered by truck, it had the ability to receive coal by barge. However, when the plant’s original barge-unloading crane was retired, the plant had to rely solely on truck delivery for a period of time.

In 2008, installation of a new E-Crane meant the plant again was able to take delivery by barge, increasing the plant's fuel delivery options in what had become an ever-changing market.

An E-Crane (equilibrium crane) uses a counterweight to help it do its work. It features a parallelogram-style boom that provides a direct mechanical connection between the counterweight – filled with concrete – and the load.

Kanawha River Plant: Dedicated

Former plant manager Joe Karrasch noted employees’ dedication, expressed through their commitment to safety and the way they took total ownership of the facility.

“Kanawha River was the cleanest coal plant in the AEP system and this was achieved only through this total ownership attitude,” Karrasch said. “In addition to this ownership attitude -- at every level -- the organization was committed to learning and operational excellence.”

Karrasch, who was plant manager from 2006 through 2008, is now asset investments manager, Commercial Operations (regulated).

Current Plant Manager Aaron Sink also noted the dedication and focus of Kanawha River Plant employees.

“No doubt about it, the employees of KRP are dedicated to generating electricity,” he said. “Just take a look at their contribution during the polar vortex and the second coldest winter in the last 35 years. Even though they knew we would be shutting down in May of 2015, they continued to add value with honor and integrity.

“I'm proud to be associated with them,” Sink concluded.