Natchez Steamplant a mix of old and new

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 27, 2000

A half-century after it opened, the Natchez Steamplant is a mix of new and old technology.

Shiny new heating pipes sit outside the room where the hulking Westinghouse turbine churns steam into power. New computers line a table in the control room between tall, gray steel cabinets filled with manual gauges, looking like a relic from a 1950s science fiction movie.

In extended reserve for the past 15 years, the steamplant is back online after a $6.4 million renovation by Entergy. Company officials celebrated its grand reopening Wednesday afternoon with a reception at the plant.

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The steamplant produces 65 megawatts (65,000 kilowatt hours per hour) of electricity — enough to power about 4,500 houses — and will operate from February to October each year.

&uot;It’s quite an accomplishment for all these guys here to get a 50-year-old plant into this system,&uot; said plant operations coordinator Roger Smith as he pointed from the old gauges to the new computer graphics.

The employees can use just three pages of computer information to monitor the entire plant — but they still use the old gauges as well.

After less than a month of producing power, the plant has already helped&160;Entergy meet the additional power demand created by last week’s heat wave.

Entergy Mississippi President and CEO&160;Carolyn Shanks said the company tried to find ways — after last summer’s heat wave which forced a rolling shutdown of power to customers in four states – to increase the company’s power reserves. Entergy has brought six units that were previously shut down back online.

&uot;Everything here went well,&uot; Shanks said. &uot;It’s a $6 million investment. To us it’s a reimbursement to the community and to our customers.&uot;

The plant now employs 12 people, and only one is part-time.

The plant works by heating natural gas to convert water to steam, which powers a turbine that turns the steam into electricity.

First, pipes heat the water pumped from the ground even before the it reaches the boiler, which uses natural gas to heat the water to between 850 and 900 degrees Fahrenheit to turn the water into steam.

The steam is diverted to the turbine, where it turns the turbine and powers a generator which turns the energy into electricity.

The steam is then diverted back to a cooling tower, which cools the steam back down to a liquid that can be used again.

The power created by the steamplant goes into a &uot;pool&uot; of power created by all of Entergy’s power plants in the region, said Entergy Customer Service Manager&160;Forest Persons. Different power lines in and out have to be as synchronized, much like synchronized swimmers in a real pool, he said.

If the lines are off they can cause the power to blink.

&uot;You’ve got about two seconds to get it right,&uot; Smith said.

Entergy also gets power from nuclear plants, such as Grand Gulf near Port Gibson, and other natural gas plants, which use backed oil, Persons said. The company also owns part of a coal plant in Arkansas.