This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Rensselaer power house

The City of Rensselaer provides the electricity to the residents of Rensselaer. At one time the city electric utility also generated the power, but today it only rarely does. The power plant on North Van Rensselaer was rated as "outstanding" by the Jasper County Interim Report, which surprised me. I had never seen anything special about it.

 
The building as it exists today is the result of three separate construction projects, and its history is given on four stone or concrete plaques. Two of them are clearly visible above on either side of the main door in the picture above. The first reads:
Rensselaer Power Plant 1939
Incorporated as a municipal steam power plant in 1898
remodeled and enlarged in 1939
Chas S Chamberlin Superintendent Louis C Ramp Asst Superintendent J.W. Moore & Sons Consulting Engineers Howard S. Garnes Architect W. R. Dunkin & Son Inc Contractors

On the other side of the door the city officials got their names in stone:
Rensselaer Power Plant 1939 Conrad Kellner Mayor John P Merritt Clerk-Treasurer Robert Wright City Attorney Councilmen Chas P Benjamin Ross Rowen Harry Schwartzell Marion Irwin Albert Abbott
I now know where Kellner Street got its name.

As you go north along the building, you find the third inscription:
1949 Addition to Municipal Power Plant Rensselaer, Indiana
William H. Bahler Mayor
Joseph Critser Waldo Garrigues Howard Randle Russell Hadley Wendell Martin City Council
John R. Merritt City Clerk-Treasurer
W. A. Somers City Attorney
Louis C. Ramp Utilities Superintendent W. T. Wilcox Assistant Superintendent
W. R. Dunkin & Sons, Inc Contractor
Boyd E. Phelps, Inc. Architects Engineers
The final bit of the building was put into place 20 years later. All the parts have the same look, so unless one reads the signs, one might never realize that that entire building was not constructed in 1939. The final inscription reads:
1969 Addition to Municipal Power Plant Rensselaer Indiana Malcom W. Roth Mayor Denver M Tudor Clerk-Treasurer Robert Wright City Attorney Robert Randle City Attorney
Councilmen James Grandlund James Gwin William Hudson R Harold Lakin Ray Shoup
Edward Putman Plant Superintendent
Paul Richards Line Superintendent
James I. Barnes Construction Co Building Contractor
Carroll Dietle & Associates Inc. Consulting Engineers & Architect

 
The building is in the International Style. The 1939 building was built over the original building, which was then dismantled. "The international style in this building is characterized by a flat top roof without eves that terminates flush with the wall plane and large expanses of metal casement windows." (From the pamphlet, Guide to Historic Structures and Points of Interest in Jasper County, Historical Preservation Association of Jasper County, 2007)

Entry to the building is closed without permit, but you can look through the windows to see the turbines. Information about what is inside is on the city's website:
Peak shaving and emergency supply are the most important objectives for the power plant employees.  The plant was built in 1892 and purchased by the City of Rensselaer in 1897.  The plant houses six (6) engine/generators.  Four are powered by diesel fuel, one is dual fuel with the option of operating on diesel or natural gas and one is a straight natural gas engine.  The plant is capable of generating enough power to meet the needs of Rensselaer.
 
Some electricity is generated by plants that have low fuel costs but which take a long time to start up or shut down. The NIPSCO plant near Wheatfield is an example. The Rensselaer plant generates power at a higher cost, but it is very easy to start the generators up or shut them down. Hence, it is a peaking plant, and it operates only when there is stress on the grid. On one cold December morning plume of steam from the cooling towers said that it was generating. There was no smoke from the chimneys, so it probably was running using natural gas.
 
Here is a better look at the cooling tower.
 
Also in the back are four large tanks which contain diesel for the times when the diesel generators need to be fired up.

Most of the time we do not notice the power plant, and that is good. We want to be able to take electricity for granted, and when it works well, that is what we do.
Update: I found a similar post on the Power House here.

1 comment:

Jake said...

How do you get people to let you into these places? Haha