With the push of a button Saturday, a retired employee of the Big Sandy power plant in Lawrence County ignited a blast to implode a giant cooling tower that helped produce electricity for more than four decades.
“It’s a big thrill to be asked to do this,” said Bob Armstrong, 85, of Louisa, who worked at the plant for 30 years when it burned coal to produce electricity.
The 370-foot-tall tower was part of Unit 2, which started operating in 1969. The tower cooled 248,000 gallons of water a minute from the Big Sandy River to use in the process of generating electricity.
Kentucky Power, a unit of American Electric Power, shut down Unit 2 in May 2015 in order to comply with tougher emissions rules aimed at improving air quality.
The Big Sandy plant continues to use a companion cooling tower at Unit 1. Kentucky Power converted that unit to use natural gas, which burns more cleanly than coal.
The conversion mirrors a trend that has accelerated across the country in recent years.
Greg Pauley, Kentucky Power president and chief operating officer, called the demolition of the giant cooling tower a milestone for AEP, Kentucky Power and Eastern Kentucky.
“Unit 2 provided the region with safe, reliable and affordable electricity for nearly 50 years,” Pauley said in a news release. “While this event marks the end of an era, it also further cements Big Sandy’s new role.”
The company said the tower was 395 feet in diameter at the base. Contractors used more than 500 pounds of explosives to demolish it.
“I’ve been on top of that stack,” Armstrong, the retired plant worker, said in a release. “It’s really something now to see it coming down.”
Kentucky Power has about 169,000 customers in 20 counties in Eastern Kentucky.