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Alabama Power to retire Gadsden Steam Plant after more than a century of service

Alabama Power today announced the retirement of its oldest power plant, the Gadsden Steam Plant, after 109 years. The retirement is set for Jan. 1, 2023.

“The Gadsden Steam Plant was the catalyst that helped spur the economic growth of Alabama in the early 1900s,” said Jim Heilbron, Alabama Power’s senior production officer. “It’s been a steady energy source for us to dependably power our customers ever since. Though it’s the end of an era to close its doors, we will continue to find ways to honor the legacy.”

The company’s continued focus on providing customers the most efficient and cost-effective electricity possible drove the decision to retire the plant’s two 70-year-old units.

Located on the banks of the Coosa River in Gadsden, the original plant was under construction when company president James Mitchell secured the purchase of the Alabama Power Development Company in 1912. In 1913, Mitchell consolidated the companies under the name Alabama Power Company.

When it was built, Plant Gadsden’s ability to produce 10,000 kilowatt hours made it the largest electric-generating facility in the state. This gave Alabama Power the reserve power needed to build dams, expand transmission lines, grow Alabama’s economy and improve service to the state.

The Gadsden plant provided power for trolleys, streetlights, manufacturers and others, historian Leah Rawls Atkins wrote in her award-winning book, “Developed for the Service of Alabama.”

Having readily available electricity encouraged companies to move to Gadsden.

“It was the beginning of a new era – one driven by electricity,” Atkins said. “Gadsden Steam Plant was significant in the development of the state power system.”

The plant has gone through various changes and hit several milestones throughout the years, with its commitment to providing reliable energy always at the center of operations.

The original Gadsden Steam Plant produced electricity until 1952. A new plant was built on the site and began operation in 1949. The units were built with the ability to use coal or natural gas to generate electricity.

In 1999, Renew the Coosa, now known as the national award-winning initiative Renew Our Rivers, was started as a community river cleanup by Plant Gadsden employee Gene Phifer. Today, Renew Our Rivers is one of the nation’s largest river system cleanups, with more than 120,000 volunteers removing more than 16 million pounds of trash from Southeastern waterways.

Beginning in 2000, Plant Gadsden began to test various alternative fuel options, including a switchgrass co-firing system. The plant received a Southeastern Electric Exchange award for the project in 2001. 

Cassandra Wheeler became plant manager in 2012, making her the first African American woman plant manager in the Southern Company system.

In 2015, the company begins fully using natural gas as its fuel source.  

Alabama Power is committed to working on job placements for all employees who wish to stay with the company. As a result, no involuntary job losses from the plant retirement are expected.