The lights have been dimmed, but not extinguished, at the city’s municipal light and power plant. The generating plant at the south end of town has served city residents since 1937, so it was a sad occasion Friday when the biggest engine in the plant made its last run before being tagged out by Mayor pro-tem Mary Cooper.
For the last 20 or so years, the plant has provided emergency backup as the city relied more and more on purchased power.
In the last few years, transmission redundancy and EPA emission standards combined to force the plant into standby status. Finally, Delta City Council members were faced with the fact that maintaining the engines was more costly than any benefit the city would realize. Although it’s still fully operational, the decision was made to close the plant. It is being “frozen in time.”
Steve Glammeyer, director of utilities and public works for the City of Delta, explains the plant may have a future as a museum. The Fairbanks-Morse engine/generators still have the original Woodward governors, and are likely the only ones left in the U.S., Glammeyer told the crowd gathered for the ML&P retirement ceremony last Friday. Visitors from around the world have stopped in to take a peek.
Although it’s filled with diesel-powered engines, the plant is impeccably clean. The imposing black engines are free of both dust and rust; the paint on the floors and walls shows no signs of wear. Tools hang neatly in a row, and the gauges are still easy to read. Glammeyer credited the superior condition of the plant and its equipment to the city employees who kept the plant running, many of whom spent their entire career at ML&P. Several were on hand for the retirement ceremony, including Fay Mathews, a former utilities director who retired after a 42-year career with the city. Mathews says diesel fuel cost just 1.5¢ a gallon when he started with the city. Every other day, a tankerload was delivered to the plant to keep the big engines running 24/7. Four units can also be operated with natural gas.
Mathews said the power plant has saved city residents thousands of dollars over the years, while providing reliable, competitively-priced electricity and contributing to the city’s general fund year in and year out.
Bob Lowell was a plant operator for over 20 years. “I don’t know how many guys I trained over the years,” he said. Also on hand was Jack Behrman, who retired after 26 years with the city. Glammeyer also mentioned Cecil Crim, Bob Crim and Pat Davis, who worked the graveyard shift and didn’t miss a day of work in 32 years. One of the plant’s early employees was W.C. “Buster” Daily, a Fairbanks-Morse employee who came to Delta to oversee construction of the plant and decided to stay.
Adam Suppes, electric superintendent, provided a brief history of the plant. Additional research was done by the Delta Historic Preservation Board when the plant was listed on the local historic register.
At the turn of the century, residents of Delta numbered about 800. Through a franchise agreement with a steam plant operator, the city was able to provide electric lighting for homes and businesses, as well as city streets. According to one historic account, electric lights were turned on for the first time in the City of Delta on New Year’s Day in 1903.
In 1935, the steam power plant burned to the ground and the city decided to investigate the feasibility of a municipal power plant to meet the growing need for electricity. By that time, the city’s population had surpassed 3,000.
The municipal electric light and power system of the City of Delta was established in 1935. By 1938, three small Fairbanks-Morse diesel generators had been installed in the power plant. Two of these units were three-cylinder, 125 KW engine/generators. The third was a four-cylinder, 182 KW engine/generator.
Between 1939 and 1956, four additional Fairbanks-Morse engine/generator units of greater output were purchased and installed. The plant was expanded five times to accommodate the additional engines. The seven generators provided a total output of 4989 KW.
As the population grew and technology improved, the city was faced with purchasing additional electricity to meet the community’s needs. The tie-in occurred in 1967, requiring the installation of a substation behind the existing plant.
The city has purchased power from Delta-Montrose Electric Association, Western Area Power Administration and the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN).