For the last few weeks the Messenger and the Vagabond have been doing a partnership with Alabama Power Company for the 100th anniversary of the Gadsden steam plant. The Vagabond contacted Alabama’s famous historian, Leah Rawls Atkins, for her expert information. Leah wrote a very thick book on Alabama Power Company a few years ago called Developed for the Service of Alabama, The Centennial History of the Alabama Power Company 1906-2006. It is a must-read fabulous book.
From this and research from the Vagabond’s files, we showed that Gadsden and its area was important in the starting of Alabama Power Company.
Throughout the month of September, Alabama Power is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the company’s Gadsden Steam Plant. As a kick-off to the celebration, company representatives presented ed-ucators from Gadsden City Schools with some special lesson plans that they could use to educate students about the important role that Gadsden played in the early days of bringing electricity to the state – and in the founding of Alabama Power Company. The lesson plans were written by Dr. Leah Atkins, who has written extensively about the history of Alabama Power. Educators who got the first look at the lessons agreed that teaching children about local history in such detail is a fantastic idea.
Gadsden Steam Plant
In July 1912, James Mitchell acquired an unfinished steam plant in Gadsden. Construction resumed afterward and it began generating electricity in August of 1913. The Gadsden plant remained in service until it was replaced by the current plant in 1949.
The Gadsden Steam Plant would generate electricity in drought times when the Coosa River was low and hydroelectric generation not possible.
On April 7, 1949, the first of two new 60,000 kilowatt units were online and were designed to burn either coal or natural gas. It was built to replace its obsolete predecessor which operated at 10,000 KW.
Units #1 and #2 are each 60 MWe tangentially-fired pulverized coal boilers manufactured by Combustion Engineering (CE). Their steam flows are each 600,000 pounds/hour at 850 psig and 900 degrees F. They both have three elevations of burners situated at each of the four corners of the furnace. Both boilers have Raymond bowl mills.
Units #1 and #2 both burn bituminous coal and both are equipped with electrostatic precipitators for particulate control. The units produce electricity and also generate steam for the Goodyear Plant.
In 1964 the original Gadsden Steam Plant units constructed in 1912 were demolished. The old Gadsden units were last operated in November of 1952. The demolition of the old Gadsden plant’s obsolete units represented the end of a bygone era.
Back in May of 1992, Patricia J. Hester took over as general plant manager of the steam plant, the first time the position was held by a woman.
Two major changes were made over the years. One was the size of the electric generator stations and the efficiency of generating electricity. The early steam generating plants were very small.
The cost of generating electricity has not increase much over the last 50 or 60 years because the efficiency in generating it has improved so much that it kept the cost down.
In 2011, Alabama Power used coal to generate 58 percent of its electricity. Compare that to 1999, when 77 percent of Alabama Power’s electricity was produced through coal-fired generation. In 1999, natural gas produced only 1 percent of Alabama Power’s total. In 2011, it had risen to 16 percent.
Natural gas prices have plummeted thanks to advances in drilling and extraction technology that allow for the extraction of gas from fractures in rock formations deep underground.
Natural gas burns cleaner than coal and produces less carbon dioxide. The Gadsden plant by 2011 was using mainly natural gas. The plant also was an experimental site for burning wood biomass and switch grass fuels, but as of 2012 the plant does not burn biomass.