A recent survey from a reader sparked a quick search on a complex topic.
The reader has recently noticed that the demolition of what many still call Goudey Station in Westover has begun. The coal plant had a long and somewhat turbulent history, and the reader wanted to know when it opened, how it operated, when it closed, and who owns it now.
The station began as part of the operation of the Binghamton Light, Heat & Power Co. It was a local company that saw a real need to generate electricity for an area that was growing at a rapid pace.
Cigar factories, shoe factories, factories of all types, and homes all needed electricity, and coal was the main need to be burned and converted into electricity. In 1917, a new coal-fired power plant was under construction at Westover – an area just outside Johnson City but adjacent to the Lackawanna railroad tracks so that coal could be brought directly to the facility.
Even before the plant was actually under construction, the decision was made to expand the facility to provide more power, and other equipment was purchased to double its capacity. Electricity generated at what was then called Westover Station was transmitted directly to a sister plant on Noyes Island in Binghamton to supply Binghamton. It was a race to keep increasing power capacity to meet the needs of expanding triple cities.
What began as a 3,500 kilowatt generating station grew through expansion and additions to produce 173,750 kilowatts in 1952. That year three things had happened or were about to happen. First, New York State Electric & Gas had taken over ownership and management of the station after absorbing the Binghamton Light, Heat & Power Co. Second, in 1952 Joseph P. Murphy retired as superintendent of the factory after working for 47 years. for what had become NYSEG.
The third thing was that in 1948 the factory was renamed Goudey Station in honor of retired NYSEG Vice President William Goudey. At the same time as Goudey’s plaque was placed in the station, another sister factory at Bainbridge was renamed Jennison Station.
As power generation at the plant has continued to increase, the number of problems associated with electricity generated from coal has also increased.
Labor unrest had hit the factory in 1950, and by the early 1960s parts of the factory had ceased to be used. One of the many chimneys was taken offline and eventually demolished in 1980.
Despite this change, Goudey Station continued to belch smoke and toxic particles from the remaining smokestacks into the air around the plant. Air pollution from this plant and others in the area, such as Anitec and IBM, has severely affected air quality in the area.
Additionally, pollution from Goudey Station seeped into the aquifer found beneath the plant which brought water to a large area surrounding Westover and Johnson City. In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the federal government undertook major efforts to reduce emissions from the plant. New equipment was put into service which it was hoped would reduce these emissions, but the problems remained.
NYSEG took action in 1999 by divesting five coal-fired power plants for power generation, including Goudey Station. It was sold to AES Eastern Energy, and between that year and 2009 the plaque showing William Goudey was removed, with a whereabouts still unknown. Despite numerous newspaper reports stating that the plant would be retrofitted to produce “clean” energy, AES Eastern Energy closed the facility in 2011.
The factory was then sold to GMMM Holding, to salvage metal and other parts, leaving a carcass of the old factory still standing. Now, with documented but totally unresolved environmental issues, action has begun to demolish a century-old facility that has become a monument to how we used to generate electricity to meet our needs, but added to our environmental problems.
The climate change debate continues, but for many in this region living above the plumes, having water and air reducing systems, these problems are very real.
Gerald Smith is a former Broome County historian. Email him at [email protected]
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