Changeover for Power Plant seen as boost for Downtown

By Lynn R. Parks

The clean-out work at the old Seaford power plant is completed. But acting mayor David Genshaw cautioned members of the city council Tuesday night that there is still a lot of work to be done to the 70-year-old, 11,000-square foot building before it can be used for anything.

"The potential is huge there for a re-launching of the whole downtown," he said, especially with plans to build the Residences at Riverplace apartment complex nearby.

"But I want to be realistic. It's a structure that requires a tremendous amount of work and a lot of money."

Even so, Genshaw added, "there's a tremendous amount of interest out there in this building."

Assistant city manager Charles Anderson showed a slideshow of pictures of the empty plant. Deep troughs are located where generators once stood. And the walls are dotted with holes where pipes once ran through. The city plans to fill in the troughs and secure the building so that water and vandals can't get in.

The downtown plant, which sits on the Nanticoke River on the west side of the drawbridge, was built in 1939 to generate power for the city. But it has not done that since the mid 1970s, when the city started buying all of its power from Delmarva Power and Light.

The 7-megawatt plant, which had six generators, was mothballed for the first time then and remained inactive, firing up just once a month to make sure the generators were working, until 1985. At that time, the city entered into an agreement with Conectiv (now Delmarva Power and Light) to produce power at peak times. Conectiv paid the city for the power that it generated.

"Peak shaving" ended in January 2004, when the city's contract with Conectiv ended. The city's new power supplier, Constellation, was not interested in peak shaving. So the city went into the electric sales business, firing up the generators when the price of electricity spiked high enough for the plant to make a profit.

That ended in late 2005 when the price of diesel went so high that the plant couldn't make a profit on what it generated.

In 2007, the state put in place new air pollution regulations that pretty much spelled the end of the plant. At that time, the plant had five working generators, built in 1958, 1954, 1953, 1939 and 1962. The state was concerned about the pollutants that they spewed out, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, a contributor to ground-level ozone, the smog that is especially harmful to those with breathing disorders. The state was also concerned about the plant's discharge of particulate matter, the small particles in exhaust that are linked with lung disease.

The city started the plant decommissioning process last year, when it sold the plant's two 29,000-gallon fuel tanks for $2,000 each.

In February, the city hired NCM Demolition and Remediation in Salisbury to remove all of the plant's equipment. There was no cost to the city. For payment, NCM kept most of the equipment, metal and cable that its workers removed. The one exclusion was the plant's medium-voltage switchgear, which the city sold in April for $30,000.

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