Morgan Moments – Inside the E H Werner Power Plant
The majority of the content of this page has only been made possible primarily because of the generous efforts of two people. A huge thank you goes to my college friend Valerie for finding a copy of the July 15, 1930 issue of Power Plant Engineering which featured an article about South Amboy’s then brand spanking “New Plant on Raritan Bay at South Amboy, N. J.” Another huge thank you goes to Morgan-NJ.org reader Sean McGrady for his spectacular photos of the inside of that same soon-to-be leveled E H Werner Power Plant. Jason saw the write-up about the history of the building and contacted me to offer the usage of his photos. Yet another thank you goes to Holly Hughes Horning of the Historical Society of South Amboy for providing the exterior photo of the Intake Channel.
As well as I can and as non-technical as I can, I’ll try to explain how this power plant operated in its early days primarily via translation of the content of the Power Plant Magazine article. This article is even too technical for me so I can’t guarantee that this explanation will in all cases be done well enough. We’ll try anyway.
On the big picture, the plant did what power plants the world over still do, that is, heat water to make steam to turn turbines which turn generators to make electricity; conceptually very simple. When it opened in 1930, this power plant used coal to heat water, obtained from deep wells and stored in underground storage tanks, to produce steam at a pressure of 1400 pounds per square inch at 750 degrees Fahrenheit. After the steam spun the turbines, it was cooled back to liquid form using water from Raritan Bay which was then returned to Raritan Bay. The evaporated water then flowed back into the two 10,000 gallon underground water tanks outside the station.
It all started with coal. Delivered either via barges from Raritan Bay or via hopper bottom railroad cars, the coal would be brought to the “coal breaker” which appears to have been located in the tower next to the coal dock (see this tower here). In the coal breaker, coal was crushed and either sent down a chute to the storage area for later retrieval by the “drag scraper” or moved by an elevated and enclosed conveyer belt into six 125 ton reinforced concrete silos located on the south side of the south wall.
The area on the south side of the building, between the bay and what is now the four exterior diesel powered generators, used to be where the coal was stored. There was space for 25,000 tons of coal.
Inside the building, there were (and still are – so far) three boilers each with its own set of five “air-swept ball type” of coal pulverizing mills – one pulverizing mill for each burner in each boiler. Each pulverizing mill had a 5000 pound per hour capacity. 15 mills times 5000 pounds per hour equals 75,000 pounds per hour or 37.5 tons per hour. In 24 hours that would be 900 tons of coal (1,800,000 pounds) – that’s a lot of coal per day! Wonder if they ever hit that number?
As previously mentioned, the water for the steam would come from wells and storage tanks, and the water for the condensing equipment would come from Raritan Bay via the Input Channel on the north side of the building.
Per Power Plant Engineering:
Sea water from Raritan Bay forms the cooling medium for the condensers. This water flows from the harbor to the plant through an open channel lined on the sides with interlocking sheet steel piling. After passing through the condensers, the circulating water flows back to the harbor through a similar channel and a precast concrete discharge tunnel on the other side of the power plant building, discharging into the harbor 200 ft. away from the intake channel. The intake canal and discharge canal are separated from each other by a stone breakwater.
The channels are 17 ft. 5 in. wide and at low tide allows 15 ft. of water necessary for the ultimate capacity of the station. The unusual trash racks are provided where the intake tunnels enter the building and a head of each condenser are two 45,000-g.p.m. [gallons per minute] traveling screens, provision being made in screen capacity for the third unit.
Two motor-driven condenser circulating pumps, each of 21,000 g.p.m. capacity, are provided to force the water through each condenser. The intake channel runs along close beside the building with bays at each end opposite the present generating units, Nos. 1 and 3, leading in to the traveling screen wells just inside the building wall… Condenser circulating water discharges from the condensers through 48-in. pipe leading under the boiler house to the discharge channel…
The burners would of course heat the boilers to convert the water into steam. The three original 1930 boilers were pretty complex devices, more complex than will be elaborated on here. Flue gas was discharged out through the three stacks present on the roof of the building. It is interesting to note that the cylindrical exterior shape of the stacks on the roof are actually ornamental and mask the true shape of the discharge channel. Per Power Plant Engineering:
Each stack is of the steel venture type, with the induced draft fans and gas passages designed as integral parts of the stack. It is 4 ft. 10 in. in diameter at the throat, 10 ft. in diameter at the top and 60 ft. high above the top of the boiler supporting steel on which it rests. A cylindrical casing was placed around each stack to give it the appearance of a straight steel stack but this has nothing to do with its operation. It was done solely because it was felt that the original shape of the stack did not accord with the design of the building itself.
The internal shape of the stacks can be seen above in Figure 7 from Power Plant Engineering.
The high pressure steam from the boilers was piped to the turbine blades of the two General Electric 25,000 kilowatt vertical compound turbo-generators (seen in the top photo of this page). Note that South Amboy had the very first installation of this new type of turbine-generator. After this, the steam was condensed back to water as previously mentioned.
There were three different voltages produced at this plant: 33 kilovolt, 66 kilovolt and 132 kilovolt. Power was transmitted via the power lines along the right of way still used today which cut over what was once the Stevensdale Estate.
In the 1950s, the plant was expanded to add one additional and more powerful General Electric generator.
As was touched on in the other Morgan-NJ.org page about this power plant, when one looks closely at this power station, it is actually quite a remarkable piece of architecture. Per Power Plant Magazine:
STATION IS EXAMPLE OF GOOD ARCHITECTURE
Both interior and exterior of the South Amboy station present a most pleasing appearance. As shown in the headpiece, the building design is simple; it is dependent on two principal masses, with good fenestration. The vertical lines of the pilasters, the conservative decoration at the top of each pilaster and the continuous horizontal lines of the stone trim at the top all contribute their parts to the total satisfactory effect.
The station is of light buff face brick and steel construction. As is evident, the wall space between pilasters is practically all window, providing splendid lighting and ventilation. This is especially noticeable in the boiler room, where the absence of overhead bunkers permits full advantage to the taken of the windows and the monitor over the firing aisle.
The interior of the boiler room is left in the original light colored brick of the building walls. In the turbine room, however, an unusually pleasing appearance is obtained by use of glazed tiled walls and panels outlined by rows of dark brown tile. The turbine room floor is of brown tile.
It is evident from the foregoing description that South Amboy plant differs in many of its details from other power plants. Simplicity of operation and high economy with low first cost were the fundamental requirements that determined many of these details.
A point of particular interest in the design of the South Amboy station was the close cooperation and interchange of ideas existing between the architects, manufacturers and engineers in the design of this station. The result is an outstanding example of what can be done by utilizing the ability and initiative of those involved.
The South Amboy station was designed and constructed by the Electric Management and Engineering Corp. of New York City for the Jersey Central Power and Light o., and operating subsidiary of the National Electric Power Co.
As of the time of this writing, the removal of asbestos from the interior is likely still in progress. The exact date of the implosion isn’t too well known, at least it isn’t known here. I have heard that the Historical Society of South Amboy will be receiving the 1953 dedication plaque pictured above so that it will not be lost forever.