Tacoma Steam Plant temporarily shut down

For economic reasons, City of Tacoma Public Works Environmental Services announced Nov. 30 it temporarily will shut down the Tacoma Steam Plant and lay off 22 of its 31 employees. Staff reductions take effect Dec. 14, 2001.
The primary reason for the temporary closure of the waste-to-energy facility is the city has not obtained the regulatory permits necessary to operate the plant using cost-effective “alternative” fuels (asphalt shingles, waste oils) in its fuel mix.
Without the permits, the city also cannot complete much-needed upgrades to improve operating efficiency. The current state of the power market and the economic downturn also affected the facility’s shutdown.
The city lost roughly $370,000 in 2000 and estimates losses of $1.8 million in 2001. Considering the financial picture, the city agreed with its private business partner, NRG Energy, that they cannot sustain the facility in the short-term.
However, the city will retain nine employees to actively pursue permitting options and keep the plant staffed at minimum levels. City officials estimate the earliest the plant could restart is April 2002, pending the permit application process.
“We plan to bring the Steam Plant back online as soon as we possibly can,” said Karen Larkin, assistant director of Public Works/Environmental Services. “Both the city and NRG believe strongly in the benefits the Steam Plant brings to the community, on both the environmental and economical fronts.”
The affected employees include Steam Plant operators and maintenance workers. The city will try to find other positions for the employees at the city, and has set a goal to bring all employees back to the Steam Plant once it re-opens.
The Steam Plant has been an intermittent source of local power since it opened in 1931. Tacoma City Light (now Tacoma Power) built the original coal-burning facility to generate power for the Tideflats industrial area. The plant was converted in 1949 to burn oil, but operated only sporadically due to mechanical failure and other issues.
In 1984, Energy Products of Idaho (EPI) proposed leasing the idle plant, converting it to a waste-to-energy facility where it burned a combination of fuels, including a small percentage of refuse-derived fuel (RDF, which is made from municipal solid waste).
EPI then sold the power to City Light. EPI abandoned the project in 1986 for financial reasons and City Light stepped in once again. However, various regulatory issues prevented City Light from operating the plant at a sustained level until 1991. Tacoma Power closed the plant in 1998 for economic reasons.
Public Works Environmental Services took over in 1999.