Friday, May 10, 2013

Leaning Tower of UMass

Tillson Farm steam plant from eastern parking lot

Although the ghostly smoke stack that never actually operated is invisible from the main road cutting  through the heart of UMass/Amherst, North Pleasant Street,  it is clearly visible from scenic North East Street, standing out as a singular symbol of waste and corruption.

Although I've heard it referred to as the "Paradis Power Plant," nobody seems to remember why.  Mostly it's called the "Tillson Farm Steam Plant" or "The one that never worked."

The ghost tower as seen from North East Street



Although the building is not supposed to be used, the parking lot always seems busy


The smoke stack I'm told needs to come down soon, before it falls down on its own.  Note lean is towards building.





17 comments:

Walter Graff said...

You tell everybody. Listen to me. Hatcher. You've gotta tell 'em! SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE! We gotta stop them! Somehow! Listen! Listen to me… PLEASE!!!

DaveMB said...

The claim that absolutely no good came out of this project is exaggerated. Some years ago I heard a distinguished lecture by UMass geology professor Rutherford Platt, who specializes in the geologic history of this area. He really wanted to know what kind of rock was 50 feet below that particular spot, and the excavation answered that for him. But he didn't know of any other benefit of the project.

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, as I understand it, the plant worked perfectly well - the problem was the asinine idea to pipe live steam 1.9 miles DOWNHILL that didn't work so well. With a lot of other things making it all worse...

According to the Ward Commission report, Eastman Lane had to be closed out of fears that people would be burned to death from the leaking steam -- steam which had been generated at this plant.

Walter Graff said...

"Larry, as I understand it, the plant worked perfectly well - the problem was the asinine idea to pipe live steam 1.9 miles DOWNHILL that didn't work so well. With a lot of other things making it all worse..."

Asinine? Hmmm... NYC's Con Edison pumps 30 Billion pounds of 180 psi steam to 1800 customers through 105 miles of mains and service pipes that travel up and down high and low terrain throughout NYC. Areas of high pressure easily travel to areas of low pressure whether eleven stories strait down or 40 stories strait up.

And talk about the first kids on the block to go green, this very efficient cogeneration system was invented in 1877.

Anonymous said...


I love you guys, no matter what the topic you're an expert. From a bunch that never stops talking about the evils of booze, you sure sound like a drunk sitting at a bar. I hope you idiots don't believe the shit you spew.

Anonymous said...

Why do you whiny Anons keep reading if all you can do is complain? If you don't agree with an opinion, post your own well-informed opinion to try to add something productive to the conversation. Otherwise, stop wasting your own time by reading a blog that you apparently hate!

Walter Graff said...

I've always been curious about this. From what I can find no one knows the reason it was never put into real use. The reasons given are all over the map from realistic to the absurd. Seems the reasonable explanation is the converting to natural gas from coal and then a site choice that was cheaper, did not affect wetlands and was away from traffic, so in the end the farm was a possible choice for new plant but not chosen from four possible picks mostly due to economics.

Tom McBride said...

I predict the University will find something else practical to do with the structure (please, no pessimists) after the stack is taken down. It was a lot of money down the drain through. What "I" heard many years ago was faulty construction, a bunch of valves put in backwards, and they all failed when the plant was fired up. I don't know what the case was back then, but this is why you have long contracts and lawyers involved before forking over the money. I'm not saying it shouldn't be spent, but state projects have always been excellent work if you can get it, whether the contractor is involved with organized crime or not.

Anonymous said...

Why do you whiny Anons keep reading if all you can do is complain?

just keepin' it negative...

Dr. Ed said...

Asinine? Hmmm... NYC's Con Edison pumps 30 Billion pounds of 180 psi steam to 1800 customers through 105 miles of mains and service pipes that travel up and down high and low terrain throughout NYC

Let me restate this: "Piping it 1.9 miles downhill and then attempting to run it through turbines to generate electricity."

Turbines really don't like water droplets, they tend to act like bullets and damage the turbine blades.

Beyond this, heat loss over travel is not a set percentage -- if you are "pumping" 30 billion pounds of steam at I believe pressures (and thus temperatures) you may have the same total heat loss per linear mile, but as it is from a much larger total volume of steam (a much larger heat source to deduct from), the impact is going to be a lot less.

Furthermore, does ConEd "pump" -- if they have mechanical pumps then that is more than just allowing for ambient flow, which is what UMass did.

The problem with the old plant was building the Tower Library -- as the library was considerably taller than the smokestacks, the library acted like a giant chimney that sucked the smoke into the library itself, which was not good.

And as to the "valves" -- they were one-way asbestos connectors between sections of a pipe that reduced in size as it went down Eastman Lane and eventually to the old plant (where the turbines were).

During the winter they were building the new plant, they wanted to heat it so someone came up with the bright idea of sending steam the wrong way *up* the hill. They blew apart each and every one of the asbestos connectors doing this.

Everything I have ever seen stated that the plant was ok, the line was not and that is why it was abandoned.

Anonymous said...

Steam is so wasteful anyway. Even by their own predictions, the "new" central heating plant loses about 30% of the steam generated through leaks in the pipes. Imagine any other powe or factory losing 30% of its product! It also functions as a power plant. Does it lose 30% of the electricity generated?

Dr. Ed said...

Steam is so wasteful anyway. Even by their own predictions, the "new" central heating plant loses about 30% of the steam generated through leaks in the pipes.

I hate to defend UMass -- I really do -- but facts matter here.

Your household furnace is neither 70% efficient nor anywhere as clean burning as even the OLD power plant (relative to heat produced) and if you have an oil burner, it is quite likely that it has been de-tuned to not burn as cleanly/efficiently as it could so as to keep the stack gas temperature down -- so as to keep your house from catching fire.

If you have an old chimney, this is particularly true -- and the tech (you do have the burner serviced, I hope) will actually analyze the exhaust gas and set the burner to be less efficient than it could be.

Second, you do know how a chimney works, right? Hot air rises and sucks more air up behind it, which (coming from the house) is also warmer than the cold winter air. Hence you are loosing quite a bit of heat up your chimney even when your burner is NOT running.

Third, transferring the heat of the fire to either water or air (depending on which design you have) is not completely efficient, not all the heat produced is captured (the exhaust gasses wouldn't go up your chimney if it was), and some designs are quite inefficient.

Fourth, if you are burning Natural Gas and are using white Schedule 40 plastic pipe for your chimney (which is common in Amherst -- the 33 Pomeroy Lane Coop is a quite visible example of this), then you have to have a fan blowing more air (warm household air) into the pipe as well to keep it from melting. (This actually is a serious safety thing and there is an interlock to preclude the burner from running if the fan isn't going on.)

Remember that all this air that you are sending up the chimney is air which you first had to heat above whatever temperature it is outside, and thus must be deducted from your efficiency.

The classic example of this is the open hearth fireplace of yore -- you can have a roaring fire producing lots of heat, but is sucking so much air that it can actually cool off a house. Reports are that a jar of ink in front of the fireplace would often freeze, and this is why people went to stoves, glass fireplace covers, and ductwork to bring exterior air directly to the back of the fire -- but I digress.

Fifth, there is an inherent advantage to having a constantly-running burner over the household one being toggled on and off -- UMass can start up & shut down boilers as needed but they aren't (can't) do it like your home furnace does.

70% efficiency is actually pretty good -- and the air quality per usable BTU produced is a whole lot better.

Dr. Ed said...

One more thing -- and this is something that Joe Kennedy ought to be held accountable for -- home heating oil and Diesel fuel are the same thing. Both are "#2 Distillate Oil" (Kerosine is #1).

"Good" Diesel Fuel is cleaner and meets specifications (e.g. Cetane) that aren't necessary for an oil burner because the Diesel engine is exploding the fuel rather than just burning it. But there is one other big difference: Sulfur.

The EPA has put strict limits on the amount of sulfur allowed in Diesel fuel -- and starting with 2007, trucks now have pollution control devices which require an ULTRA-Low Diesel fuel which I believe is 50 PPM versus 500 PPM.

"Sulfur Dumping" is the practice of selling high-sulfur Diesel fuel as home heating oil -- and there are no limits on how high the sulfur level can be. The EPA also has strict percentages on the percent of Diesel Oil a refinery produces must be UltraLow sulfur -- and both Diesel and Gasoline are Distillate Products -- you can't produce one without getting the other.

Venezuelan crude has some of the highest levels of sulfur of any crude and Citgo essentially has to some how get rid of high sulfur Diesel Oil in order to produce/sell its gasoline. The only way to do this is to sell it as home heating oil, and they need to make sure it moves.

Any merchant knows how to get rid of something -- you mark it down, or even give it away for free. Hence Joe Kennedy is actually helping Citgo.

And all this sulfur becomes lots of nasty things which become concentrated in urban poor (often minority) neighborhoods. Yes...

Anonymous said...

Oh Eddie, you are so wonderfully predictable. Let's break down your latest magnum dopus. (I can't honestly say I actually read it all, and therein lies the sheer beauty -- I didn't need to!)

1. First, start with either a pro forma criticism or backhanded compliment of that inexhaustible whipping boy: "I hate to defend UMass -- I really do."

2. Next toss in the line that you've no doubt got tattooed on your buttocks, since you so often talk straight out of your ass: "Facts matter"

3. Now blather on for four or five or ten or fifty conveniently numbered ("Second", "Third"...) and eye-glazingly dull, extremely detailed, nonsensically technical paragraphs.

4. Try to rouse your audience from its stupor by head-faking them into thinking you may shortly veer back on topic -- any topic -- with my very favorite expression: "but I digress" You don't say! (I will personally carve that one on your tombstone, my dear boy.)

5. Follow up with "One more thing." Ah, if only...

6. And finally, add your own little maraschino cherry to the whole steaming pile: "Yes..." Do I hear Gollum? Or is that the verbal belch of a self-satisfied pedant who has just delivered The Final Word on Everything (not counting tomorrow's Final FINAL Word on Everything)?

Anonymous said...

I hate when Ed has a day off. So many comments to skip over...

Alonzo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
j hanson said...

Dr. Ed in his 5/11/13 comment is exactly right...I worked for the engineering firm that designed the plant and was sued and lost when the accident happened....steam going the wrong direction, uphill, to temporarily heat the plant before it was finished caused a major "steam hammer" event which ruined all of the expansion joints and pipe insulation . The cost to repair was greater than the value of the plant operation since at the time the price of oil sky-rocketed and the price of coal was low so they didn't really want to run it. Tried to buy the plant in 1990 but the State never officially took ownership so it was in limbo ...nobody wanted to accept responsibility ....what a shame, state of the art plant that never ran....J Hanson