Tanners Creek Plant ends more than six decades of service

  • During its first two years in operation – 1951 and 1952 – Tanners Creek Plant was the world’s most efficient steam plant, an achievement recorded again in 1956.
  • Indiana General Assembly: “Indiana Michigan Power's Tanners Creek Plant will cease producing electricity in May 2015, but its legacy as a home to many families, community steward, and a reliable electric provider to the people of Indiana will never be forgotten.”
  • Rosenberger: “Whenever there is a need, you can count on the employees to be here and to do everything they can to do it right. They’ve always been dedicated.”

LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. -- The bookends of Tanners Creek Plant's lifespan speak volumes about the men and women who have worked there over six decades.

During its first two years in operation – 1951 and 1952 – Tanners Creek Plant was the world’s most efficient steam plant, an achievement recorded again in 1956.

Midway through the 63rd year of the plant’s tenure, when last year’s polar vortex taxed the generation systems of the Midwest and Eastern U.S., Tanners Creek employees – already knowing the plant would be retired the following year -- met the challenge. All four units ran at capacity to meet the need. In a sterling example of the close-knit family that is the Tanners Creek work force, retirees came in to work alongside their brothers and sisters to keep the units running.

Throughout its working life, Tanners Creek has been a reliable staple for Indiana Michigan Power and AEP. At the end of May, Tanners Creek and its four units with a capacity of 995 megawatts (MW) will retire.

Three Essentials

Key dates in Tanners Creek Plant history
  • 1951 -- Tanners Creek Plant dedicated; Unit 1 operational; named world's most efficient steam plant.
  • 1952 -- Unit 2 online; named world's most efficient steam plant.
  • 1954 -- Unit 3 online.
  • 1956 -- Tanners Creek named world's most efficient steam plant.
  • 1964 -- 500-MW Unit 4 online; becomes AEP”S largest generation facility.
  • 2002 -- Wins AEP Horizon Award after going two years without an injury.
  • 2009-2011; 2011-2014 -- Tanners Creek records two years with no recordable incidents.
  • 2012 -- Receives Governor’s Workplace Safety Award.
  • 2015 -- Tanners Creek Plant retires.

Tanners Creek Plant is named for the stream that flows into the Ohio River just west of the plant. The stream was named for John Tanner, an 18th century settler across the river, who founded Tanners Station, which later became Petersburg, Ky.

Company officials selected the 200-acre site because it met three essential needs: accessibility to condensing water, accessibility to coal and proximity to power load centers.

The plant’s dedication May 24, 1951, was a major event, drawing more than 600 people including Indiana Gov. Henry Schricker; Philip Sporn, president of AEP forerunner American Gas and Electric Co. and I&M; and business and civic leaders from communities that I&M served, including 25 from Fort Wayne.

“Electricity generated here will be used to serve farmers to produce food, factories to turn out defense material, homes to rear children in the American way of life, and schools and institutions to create public and industrial leaders of the future,” the Cincinnati Post reported the day before the dedication.

Pride and Determination

A year after Unit 1 began generating power, Unit 2 came online. Unit 3 began generating electricity in 1954. In 1964, the 500 MW Unit 4 made Tanners Creek the largest generating plant on the AEP system.

From left: Tanners Creek’s first plant manager, E.E. “Pat” Clapper, Indiana Gov. Henry Shricker and Philip Sporn, president of American Gas and Electric, look over the new Tanners Creek Unit 1 during the plant’s dedication May 24, 1951.

Unit 4 used supercritical technology, which has higher efficiency and lower emissions. Though it was not AEP’s first, Tanners Creek Unit 4 helped lead to better performance on later supercritical units.

During construction, workers moved 800,000 cubic yards of earth for the foundations of the first unit ¬– for a floodwall to hold back the Ohio River. The floodwall was put to the test a number of times, the first within nine months of its completion.

Indeed, though even the damaging Flood of 1964 flooded Tanners Creek’s coal yards, the plant continued generating electricity, remembers Tom Kallmeyer, who worked at Tanners Creek for 42 years, the last 14 as plant manager. “We had to come in by boat, but we kept it running,” Kallmeyer said.

“The employees’ commitment to the community and their commitment to excellence is second to none,” said Tim Kerns, who served as Tanners Creek plant manager for five years before taking on the same role at Rockport. “Their versatility to take on different responsibilities stands out.”

Plant employees have long had a can-do approach. “When Tanners Creek said it would be done, it would be done,” said Larry Heffelmire, a 42-year Tanners Creek veteran.

Plant Manager Doug Rosenberger added, “Whenever there is a need, you can count on the employees to be here and to do everything they can to do it right. They’ve always been dedicated.”

That dedication was never more apparent than during the 2014 polar vortex.

Tanners Creek: important in the community
  • Annual payroll: $7.7 million (2014)
  • Payroll taxes: $3.4 million (2013)
  • Local property tax payments: approximately $1.9 million

“Everybody, including retirees, were coming in,” Rosenberger said. “Folks from all different groups were coming in and doing jobs that weren’t their normal jobs to get it done.”

Consider that determination to keep Tanners Creek at full capacity came after employees had already learned the plant was to be retired.

“I have marveled at the unwavering dedication that the Tanners Creek employees continue to exhibit toward their job responsibilities in face of their pending plant retirement and job disposition,” said John Mazzone, managing director - Fleet Performance and I&M. “Their performance has not only kept Tanners Creek plant safe and compliant, but also has managed to make substantial commercial contributions to I&M and the corporation, all while under glide-path operation. Theirs is truly a story of focusing their energy positively by taking ownership. It has been my privilege to know and work with such great people.”

Safety, safety, safety

Heffelmire has seen many changes over his 42 years at Tanners Creek, but none compare to the improvements in safety. “Safety glasses came along, ear protection came along … The biggest thing here is safety,” he said.

“When Tanners Creek said it would be done, it would be done,” said Larry Heffelmire, a 42-year Tanners Creek veteran.

The plant’s commitment to safety is apparent in the number safety awards and recognitions the plant received, particularly for long stretches of accident-free days. The plant’s reputation for safety led to winning the coveted AEP Horizon Award in 2002.

Employees’ ongoing safety awareness was recognized again in 2012, when the plant was awarded the Indiana Governor’s Workplace Safety Award.

Former plant manager Kallmeyer said safety awareness – both for themselves and for co-workers – has long been pervasive at Tanners Creek. “The employees had a sense of safety,” he said. “It was something they took a lot of pride in, being safe and taking care of each other.”

People Helping People

When Tanners Creek employees and retirees gathered in late April for what will likely be the last of annual service dinners, two current employees topped the list for tenure.

Ronald E. Thomas, a maintenance welder, is the most senior current employee, while Heffelmire, process supervisor, started Nov. 21, 1972 – a week after Thomas.

Thomas, Heffelmire and many other current and previous employees described a close-knit family atmosphere among the Tanners Creek employees.

“It hasn’t been hard to come to work every day when you like the people you work with and the people you work for,” Thomas said.

Heffelmire describes how employees help each other – and each other’s friends and relatives – off the job. “Everybody’s still friends, they’re brothers,” he said. “People in operations are tighter than their own families.”

“It hasn’t been hard to come to work every day when you like the people you work with and the people you work for,” said Ronald E. Thomas, a maintenance welder and the plant's most senior current employee.

Rosenberger agreed. “This is home and family to the employees,” he said. “They’ve always been dedicated. They chip in together in times of need like you don’t see elsewhere. It’s both on and off the job.”

That sense of family and helping extends beyond the plant to Lawrenceburg and surrounding communities.

“The relationship between Tanners Creek employees with the Lawrenceburg community is unique,” said Kerns, plant manager from 2006-2011. “The plant is right in the middle of town, and there has been a great working relationship between the plant, its employees and the community.”

People Helping People, a non-profit group formed by Tanners Creek employees, started with a $400 donation in 1988 and has grown to annually raise about $40,000 and distribute 70,000 cans of food to pantries and other non-profits in Tanners Creek’s home county of Dearborn as well as neighboring Switzerland, Ohio, and Ripley counties.

“We’ve gone from one pickup truck of groceries to a semi-load,” said Sonia Deshong, co-chair of the People Helping People committee and former safety supervisor at the plant who recently transferred to Columbus as a contract analyst. “It’s supported by the employees and retirees and contractors and vendors. When you ask, you get support.”

Fundraisers include a golf outing, a canned food drive and the spring “marathon,” when employees walk to raise money and socialize with a picnic in front of the plant’s office. Though Tanners Creek is being retired, plans call for employees at the adjacent, AEP-operated Lawrenceburg Gas Plant to continue the People Helping People program.

Mark McCullough, executive vice president - Generation, joined the marathon event May 8 to thank employees.

“I began my career at Tanners Creek Plant in 1981 and worked there for about 12 years, so this plant holds special memories for me,” said McCullough. “I learned a lot from the people at Tanners Creek – about power plants, about AEP and this industry, and about myself and the kind of employee and person I wanted to be. My time at Tanners Creek had a major impact on who I am today.”

Honoring Tanners Creek

Near the end of the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly, lawmakers adopted a resolution honoring the plant. Among the compelling words in the resolution:

“Indiana Michigan Power's Tanners Creek Plant will cease producing electricity in May 2015, but its legacy as a home to many families, community steward, and a reliable electric provider to the people of Indiana will never be forgotten.”