Provo Power Plant faces demolition, upgrades

Published: Monday, July 7 2014 6:44 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, July 7 2014 6:44 p.m. MDT

Newer engines are in place at the old Provo Power Plant Monday, July 7, 2014.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — Next year marks 75 years since construction began on the Provo Power Plant. The plant's towering white smokestacks, however, will be gone before the anniversary arrives.

City administrators are deciding how best to continue using the facility at 251 W. 800 North, and every option so far includes some sort of demolition and rebuilding. It's a step that is long overdue for the plant, according to Scott Bunker, assistant director of Provo City Power.

"It doesn't stand up to any safety or seismic codes of any sort, frankly. It's that old," Bunker said.

Built for a population of about 18,000, the plant now provides supplemental power during times of peak use for the city's more than 120,000 residents.

The facility includes administration offices, shops and garages for equipment, and the power plant itself, which is operated by the Utah Municipal Power Agency, according to plant manager Todd Sperry.

Windows, walls and ceilings have deteriorated from decades of use in a retired section of the plant, which includes the two large smokestacks. Garages are crammed with utility trucks beyond capacity to keep them from freezing during the winter. Yearly maintenance expenses reach $50,000 for the administration building alone, Bunker said.

"It's just not an optimal situation," he said.

What most worries Bunker is the plant's inability to withstand even a minor earthquake.

"The concern is we have all these trucks in these buildings, and if (the buildings) were to collapse, even our opportunity to respond to any type of outages would be minimized even further because we can't even get to the equipment," he said. "Emergency response, for us, is a very big deal."

The city is considering three proposals for the plant, all of which include demolishing the two smokestacks:

The first is to remodel the administration offices and add large garages and bays for vehicles and equipment. The power plant would be razed and a new one built in its place.

The second would completely replace the administration building, add on to garage facilities and remodel old sections of the power plant, bringing them up to current seismic codes.

The third and possibly most cost-effective option is to demolish the administration building and the power plant and rebuild both.

Bunker said the city is likely to select a proposal and an architect for the project within the next month.

The upgrade is expected to cost between $22 million and $24 million, but the city hopes to pay for the project without cost to utility customers, Bunker said.

"In the event that we do bond, we estimate that it will cost our customers $2 to $3 a month at most," he said. That's in addition to an average monthly utility bill of $77.

"We are actually in a great time in the history of Provo Power right now," Bunker said. "Our rates are about as low as anybody in the state. We're very competitive. And we are all but debt free. So we have a great opportunity to look at several options" in paying for the facility.

If a new power plant is built, it would also mean improvements to air quality, according to Sperry.

"Currently, our facility is fairly efficient," he said. "We run 95 percent natural gas and 5 percent diesel. … A future facility would most likely be all natural gas."

Eliminating the use of diesel fuel in energy production would cut down on pollution, though it remains unclear how much, he said.

Bunker said the new facility will be designed to serve Provo residents over the next half century while sustaining an annual population growth rate of 2 percent.

"The plant is a huge resource to the (residents) of Provo. We see the importance it plays in our energy structure here," Bunker said. "And with emergency response being one of our biggest concerns, this will provide us with a state-of-the-art facility that will allow us to meet our customers' and (residents') needs for the next 30 to 50 years."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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