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NPU to tear down structures from early days of power generation

Norwich — The last remnants of the early days of electric generation in Norwich — and the country — soon will disappear from the banks of the Shetucket River in Greeneville, as Norwich Public Utilities prepares to demolish the 1890 control room building that once accompanied the city's first coal-fired electric generation plant.

The two-story nondescript brick building on North Main St. was built just eight years after electric generation pioneer Thomas Edison oversaw construction of the world's first electric generating plant on Pearl Street in Manhattan, NPU spokesman Chris Riley wrote in a brief history of the facility. Edison's innovative plant burned down in 1890 as the privately owned Norwich Gas & Electric Co. brought its plant online, Riley said.

The city of Norwich purchased Norwich Gas & Electric in 1904, and in 1911 expanded the facility with a state-of-the-art 2,000-kilowatt General Electric turbine. The Hurricane of 1938 destroyed much of the city's electrical system, and the rebuilding included a new 7,500-kilowatt generator that met the entire power needs of the city, about 3 megawatts, Riley said. Today, NPU's electrical capacity is at 65 megawatts.

The coal-fired plant, which later switched to natural gas fuel, shut down for good in 1970 and was torn down to make way for a paved open area for utility trucks, equipment and supplies for various projects. But the control room remained in operation until 1999, said Eric McDermott, NPU electric operations integrity manager.

At that time, all control operations were moved into NPU's main building at 16 S. Golden St. a short distance away — itself once part of the 19th century Greeneville industrial heyday.

The former control room now is in a state of decay, and because it stands adjacent to the active Providence & Worcester freight rail tracks, taking it down “is the safest and most practical step,” Riley said.

The city received five demolition bids March 30, with the Norwich firm Weisse Construction submitting the low bid at $78,666. Contract negotiations for the work are underway, McDermott said, and the project should begin in early May and be completed by June 20.

NPU plans a second phase of demolition to remove two steel scaffold-style towers across from each other on the banks of the Shetucket. About two dozen electrical lines span the river from the tops of the towers, but McDermott said only six of the lines are active.

NPU crews in bucket trucks worked this past week to start disconnecting and removing unused wires that snake down from the tower underground, beneath the railroad tracks and into the basement of the control room.

The live wires will be transferred to new utility poles to be erected before the towers are demolished, McDermott said.

All that work will be much costlier at an estimated $200,000 because the structures are at the river's edge, McDermott said. NPU must await permit approvals by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because the Shetucket River north of Norwich Harbor is considered a navigable river, and the wires are considered a “river crossing,” Riley said.


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