Coal, O&M

Caring about Equipment and People

Issue 2 and Volume 112.

By Steve Blankinship, Associate Editor

Located 10 miles east of New Orleans, Entergy’s Michoud Plant has been keeping the city’s lights on for more than 40 years. Natural gas is Michoud’s primary fuel, backed up with No. 6 fuel oil. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Michoud had three operating units.

Two were restored following the hurricane. Unit 2 (244 MW) went into operation in 1963 and Unit 3 (561 MW) came online in 1967. Both turbine generators are from GE. Unit 2’s steam generator is a Riley Stoker drum type boiler and Unit 3 is a Foster Wheeler supercritical design. Each unit has two Foster Wheeler circulating water pumps and two Foster Wheeler condensate pumps. The traveling water screens were built by Chain Belt Co. and the condensers were built by Foster Wheeler. Unit 2 has two motor-driven fluid drive Byron Jackson boiler feed pumps and Unit 3 has two Worthington boiler feed pumps driven by GE turbines.

Along with Nine Mile Point (nine miles west of the city), Michoud is responsible for serving the New Orleans area. Because the transmission system limits the amount of power that can be sent into the city, Michoud’s primary role during off-peak periods is to provide voltage support and transmission integrity. During peaking months, Michoud provides generation support. Michoud also supplies generating support when transmission problems occur. “We’re on the end of the system,” said Milton Meyer, Michoud plant manager. “There are no other significant import capability interconnections on our end of the system.”

A visit to Michoud’s control room is a bit like stepping back into the 1960s. But it offers a view of an old plant performing with the times at minimal cost. Much of the equipment is “very experienced,” quips Meyer. But employees are also very creative in managing everything, so when a recommendation to replace a piece of equipment surfaces, there is a good chance it has lived to its fullest extent.

Michoud’s performance might be considered exemplary even if Hurricane Katrina had never come calling in August 2005. “Our plant employees said ‘Before we replace it, let’s see if we can fix it first’,” said Meyer. “It shows their passion for making this plant’s equipment work.” Case in point: When consultants and insurers pegged the cost of restoring Michoud after Katrina as high as $50 million, Michoud’s personnel said it could be done for about $18 million. Total restoration cost came to $18.3 million.

Estimates pegged the cost of restoring Michoud at $50 million after Katrina hit. Plant workforce did it for $18.3 million. Photo courtesy Entergy.
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That passion for keeping things running at minimal cost springs from plant practices that take Entergy’s O&M protocol to a level perhaps unheard of at most power plants. The company has business practices called the “Hierarchy of Needs.” Most plants confine responsibly to salaried personnel. But Entergy rolls it down to the craft level for involvement in the business decision process, said Meyer. Craft personnel determine how critical something is and how much it will cost. A leadership team analyses that input and gives workers the budget to accomplish the job. That means craft workers get the dollars, responsibility and authority to spend the money. “It’s a level of trust,” said Meyer.” “That’s an important factor in our performance reliability.”

Responsibility would largely be irrelevant if it didn’t translate into good plant performance. “If you use emergency forced outage rate as a barometer,” said Meyer, “Michoud’s performance from November 2006 to November 2007 is 1.32 percent.” That translates into the plant’s units being forced off line less than 116 hours a year. During that period, Michoud Unit 2 racked up 6,770 service hours. Unit 3 provided 6,946 hours of service. Not bad for a 40-something plant.

Meyer said that plant water quality and related operating practices at Michoud are also exemplary. Using water that is outside specification parameters can result in boiler tube leaks. During the same 2006-2007 time period, Michoud Unit 2 experienced two boiler tube leaks. Unit 3 experienced no boiler tube leaks.

Meyer said he believes Michoud’s practices can be replicated elsewhere regardless of whether a group has worked together a long time, as is the case at Michoud, or in a more typical situation with lots of employee turnover.

The Electric Power Research Institute performed an operations assessment at Michoud focused on business practices, said Meyer. “They commented how well people work together here and the level of ownership the craft level employees have for the equipment and people.”

That level of care is reflected in Michoud’s safety record. It’s been 15 years since the plant experienced a lost time injury and five years since it’s had a reportable one; even with Katrina paying a visit. The plant was recognized with Voluntary Protection Plan STAR site recognition in August 2007 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Perhaps much of Michoud’s operating success can be tied to its workforce stability over many years. The average number of years of service at Michoud is 16 and the median is 21 years. Within the next three years, five of the plant’s 41 employees will be eligible to retire. Replacement won’t be easy, considering that the area is still short on housing, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants and other amenities. Even mail and telephone services remain a bit erratic.

But considering all that Michoud and its employees have weathered—and survived—it’s a good bet they will make it in fine style.