Steam Heat Plant is Unique

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Editors note: The following article is reprinted from the Pennsylvania Power & Light Reporter, with permission.

Mention a generating plant and most of us think of electric generating units.

PP&L's oldest active generation facility doesn't produce electricity, though. It produces steam for heating.

The Walnut plant in Harrisburg was built in 1890 by Excelsior Electric Co. of Harrisburg. It was designed originally as a hydroelectric project with steam equipment.

The hydroelectric units utilized 'state-of-the-art' technology four water wheels which drew their power from the adjacent Pennsylvania Canal. Lighting in downtown Harrisburg was provided by power generated from these wheels, while steam produced at the plant heated homes and businesses in the area. As the years passed, the electric facilities at Walnut were upgraded until the capacity reached 1,750 kilowatts.

In 1928, Excelsior merged with PP&L. As a result of this merger, one of the most durable plants in the system became an important link in providing 'service' to PP&L customers.

Electricity was generated at Walnut until 1951, when the company decided it would not be cost effective to renovate and maintain the needed facilities. Instead, modifications were made to the existing steam units to make them more efficient and the plant continued to generate steam for the Harrisburg steam heat system.

In 1972, $3 million was invested in the plant. The aging coal-fired boilers were replaced by three oil-fired units, with the exception of boiler No. 12 which was adapted for use as an oil-fired unit. The No. 12 boiler was built in 1948.

Today, 36,600 feet of underground pipe transports steam heat to many buildings in Harrisburg. Some of the structures served are the Pennsylvania state capitol buildings, Holiday Inn, Harrisburg Steel, Harristown Building, the United State Post Office and the Dauphin County Courthouse. Six hundred steam meters are changed and overhauled annually. Operation and maintenance of all facilities are performed by 42 employees and monthly reports are completed under the direction of Richard F. Showers, who has been plant superintendent since 1970.

Declining sales of steam in recent years and operating costs that have exceeded revenues have prompted the company to consider selling the plant. A number of alternatives, including expansion of the operation, were investigated before the decision to put Walnut up for sale was made. Any sales agreement would be subject to the approval of the Pennsylvania public Utility Commission.

'PP&L will continue to provide reliable service to its customers by operating the plant with the care and concern it has always shown until any agreements are reached,' say Showers.