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January 16, 2011

LIMBA Meeting 1/14/2011 Visit to National Grid’s Northport Power Station (NPS).

January is powerplant season at LIMBA!  This year we visited the largest power station on Long Island and one of the largest on the east coast.  Last year at this time, we hosted the Caithness power station.  This year, those presenters were in attendance for a great presentation by the NPS.  Attendees were treated to a tour of the power station that rivaled an episode of “The Worlds Toughest Fixes”  or “Big, Bigger, Biggest”.  In the words of Bob Bender, the meeting’s sponsor, it was a chance to look “Behind the Switch” and get a picture of the people, technology and business behind delivering this vital commodity.


Helmets Bob Allen, the general manager of NPS, opened our session with a Safety Moment.  In a facility this large and with the levels of power involved, things can go bad in a hurry, and preparedness is paramount.  Our tour would take us to one of the two control rooms that control the four units, across the turbine deck, and up alongside one of the units undergoing an upgrade and maintenance.  Bob reviewed the architecture and operations of the NPS, the largest of 5 steam power stations on Long Island. 

A short segment on how power is purchased by LIPA from National Grid and other generators followed, and a breakdown of the National Grid power station management organization.  There are about 700 employees that operate, maintain, and manage the powerplants.  A quick tour of the steam plants’

Smallplantmap history, from Far Rockaway’s start in 1898, to Island Park’s last burning of coal in 1964, to the gas conversion of Northport finishing in 2008.  

We then heard the impressive parameters of NPS; its gargantuan capacity of 4150 Megawatts of generating power, its oil storage capacity of 2 Million barrels, the million gallon per minute cooling water flow, and 1000 degree 2500 PSI steam operation, illustrating its brawn.
Turbineplate   Operating this behemoth efficiently within the extensively regulated environment is a ballet performed by the dedicated staff that takes great pride in their plant and work.  Balancing environmental regulations designed to protect fish, with getting the proper mix of oil and gas burning within air pollution requirements, and then coordinating the electrical output minute by minute with the New York Independent System Operator is an effort that demands constant attention to detail.

The plant is fueled by #6 fuel oil supplied by tankers that moor two miles offshore and by the Iroquois gas pipeline which terminates on the property.  This discussion segued into a description of the other ways power is generated on and brought to long Island.  The NPS used to provide 45% of Long Island’s total power needs, but as the region grew and new plants and transmission lines were added, this share has declined.  The Neptune cable from New Jersey brings 600 Megawatts of cheaper power onto LI, but that power is generated by coal-fueled plants, which drop their pollution onto us.  The NPS has had over $100 Million invested over the last 15 years to reduce its environmental footprint.  The fuel oil they burn has been reduced in sulfur content from 3% or liquid coal, to much cleaner 0.7% sulfur content.  The ability to burn cleaner natural gas was introduced.  Electrostatic precipitators capture solid pollution.

The latest efficiency upgrade was on view during our tour.  The steam turbines that turn the generators, are being upgraded to a “Dense Pack”, which increases their efficiency by 3 percent.  These retrofits were on full view during our tour.  As the turbines are being changed out, the rest of the shutdown  unit undergoes extensive maintenance and renovation.  Smallturbine We were also able to peer inside the 40 foot square combustion chambers that contain huge fireballs when in operation. 

In all, this was a master class in the mechanic, economic, environmental and human factors involved in operating an integral piece of Long Island’s infrastructure.  We extend our thanks to National Grid for allowing us to be one of the ten tours that are granted each year.  It was a special opportunity  to go “behind the switch” and see where our electricity comes from and get to know the facility and people that keep the lights on.  An educational opportunity not to be missed. 

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