Sunday, December 25, 2016
Plant rescued from the scrap heap
By Mark Reynolds
Recently, Larry She, President of Danskammer LLC, invited the Southern Ulster Times for a tour of the inside of the cavernous power plant; a rehabilitation project that is still very much a work in progress. It was originally built in four phases, starting in 1951 and additional sections constructed in 1954, 1959 and 1967, respectively.
She said after the flooding from Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 the two oldest sections of the plant took on 24 inches of water in their lower and basement areas. He said initially there was consideration given to scrapping the plant, however, the most expensive parts, the turbine generators and the control room, were not damaged by the storm. Plant Manager Ed Hall said as they inventoried the plant they were able to identify all of the parts that were damaged in the storm and needed to be fixed, such as electrical motors, valves and fittings. After a final price was established, they decided in May 2014 that the plant was worth saving and began to move forward.
She said the company was not disclosing the exact amount needed to fix the plant “but it is in the low 8 figures.” Reports place that figure at $14 million, a number She acknowledges is in the “ballpark.”
She said more than 70 people [40 full time and 30 contractors] have been working “feverishly” six days a week on the plant. He said this equates to “about 600 years of Danskammer specific experience to help bring this place back and to ultimately operate it.” Ray Hart has 13 years experience, Rich Backofen 23 years, Mike McGuiness 34 years, Robert Mason 9 years and Eric Holbeg at 33 years, to name a few of the crew. Rich Backofen’s own story mirrors what many workers feel about the plan to revitalize Danskammer.
“It brought me back to my town and my family. I worked here for 23 years, moved to Florida [and] found another job but I was away from my family and ultimately when I left here it was on a sour note. I wanted to finish what I started here 23 years ago. I wanted to finish my career here.” Other members of the crew agreed, saying that today “things are upbeat and there is a high morale.”
Presently 2 of the generators have been repaired and the remaining 2 will soon be finished, with the expectation that the plant will be operational by the end of this year.
“The sole purpose of the entire plant is to make clean water into very high pressure steam and that steam turns this engine that makes this generator make electricity; that’s basically it,” he said. “Everything in this plant is to make, control [and] monitor the generation of steam…The temperature and pressures are very high.” She said that if Danskammer’s 4 generating units were running at full capacity the plant could power a total of 450,000 homes.
She said the main control room is a mix of old and new technology “and everything is still functional.” One panel controls temperature, flow and pressure at the plant while another controls the generation at the plant – “watching the electrons that are being made.”
She pointed out that every power plant in New York is paid to be on standby.
“You can think of it as a payment to be ready to make power at a moment’s notice,” he said.
Danskammer receives $24 million annually from the state but She quickly adds there are “meaningful expenses” the plant incurs throughout the year, such as salaries and the recent expenditure of $11,000 just for panel light bulbs.
With the plant nearly ready, She recalled a time in the recent past when they rescued it “from the jaws of death. Nobody lived this closer than I did.”
During the rebuilding process She worked very closely with the Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The regulators work within the rules that are established and they don’t take their personal opinions into things,” he said. “They work within the framework of the law. They helped us to the extent they could in understanding our permits and our options and ultimately they were very cooperative. I give the DEC a tremendous amount of credit in helping us navigate through this. We [also] had the support of local legislators…and they did not stand in the way of this project’s potential.”
She said at the beginning of the project he questioned if they were going to be able to make it all work
“I characterized this as a one in ten thousand shot,” he said of their initial odds for success. He said many companies had “written this place off” and believed the plant would never again operate.
“If more folks thought this place had a chance to return to service there would have been people clamoring at the opportunity to buy it; there were no takers,” he recalled.
With Danskammer poised to return to service at a modest level of operation, it appears that once again power will be produced on the shores of the Hudson River in the Town of Newburgh.