Provo Power to remove iconic stacks

A visual rendering of the updated Provo power plant. Many changes will take place in the plant starting this year, due to danger and environmental concerns. (VCBO Architecture)

As they dawn on the 75th anniversary of their commissioning, Provo Power employees are looking back and realizing they have major problems.

Provo Power is the largest municipal utility in the state, a locally owned and operated entity that is beginning to make major changes to its potentially hazardous plant. The process of demolition, abatement and construction is estimated to cost around $20 million.

A recent structural assessment done on the plant’s smokestacks revealed the iconic structures would most likely come down even during a minor seismic event. Over the past three years, the stacks have begun to degrade, and concrete has begun falling off the top.  In addition to the structural integrity concerns, the cost of maintaining the plant’s systems is burdensome, costing about $50,000 a year, on average.

“After 75 years, you can imagine that these facilities have long outlived their life,” said Scott Bunker, assistant director at Provo Power.

After much debate, Provo Power decide to take down and rebuild the whole complex, including the smokestacks, a construction project to include offices, a new warehouse and parking garages for equipment.

“We thought it’d be a good time,” Bunker said, “while we’re looking back on our 75th anniversary, really to start looking forward a little bit as well, and do what we want to do for the next 50 years, what are we expecting, how can we serve our citizens.”

Provo Power prides itself on its quick response times during emergencies and outages but knows that in its current state it cannot successfully respond to the needs of the citizens. Bunker said the population of Provo was around 18,000 when the plant was built. Now, the company is using the same facilities to serve a population of more than 120,000.

“It just doesn’t meet our needs.We need the infrastructure that we can have to really provide us the foundation that we need to go forward and meet (our)  goals,” he said. “With our current complex and buildings … should a large event happen … we can’t respond.”

The plant’s workers and crews will transfer to another site in May. Crews will begin the abatement process, scaffolding the smokestacks, removing the asbestos and relocating the telecommunications equipment currently housed on the stacks. They will tip the stacks in a demolition scheduled for early summer. Provo Power hopes to have a new complex built within 12 months,.

“That’s a … pretty aggressive time frame,” Bunker said. “But we’ve prepared a lot, and we think we’re prepared to go forward.”

Amidst cheers from environmental activists who may be happy to see the removal of the stacks, Provo Power is trying to be sensitive to Provo residents who give personal or societal meaning to the famous structures.

“Frankly, they’re very iconic for us,” Bunker said. “For those of us that have worked here a long time, this is our home … they represent who we are; they represent Provo Power.”

It’s a complex process, Bunker said. But because of the city’s initial decision to have its own electric company, the employees are committed to meeting the needs of Provo residents and the overall company goals.

“Really, the crux of this whole process,” said Bunker, “what instigated it, is a desire and a need to meet what we call our overall company goal, and that is to be the … safest municipal utility and the most reliable municipal utility in the country.”

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