Avon Lake Power Plant

With regard to Cleveland’s west side, the addition of the Avon Lake Power Plant on Lake Road in 1926 is arguably the most significant project taken on by C.E.I.  Situated 23 miles west of C.E.I.’s Public Square headquarters, the plant added another massive range of power and opened “a new industrial area in which electrical power will be available in abundance.” Announced in 1924, the Avon Lake plant was built from March 1925 to July 1926, and cost approximately $30,000,000.   The plant was constructed in Avon Beach Park in order to make use of the uniquely large, cool source of water in the Great Lakes.  Cool water was necessary to condense steam as it left the turbines, and five-hundred tons of water were required for every ton of coal burned by the plant.  So much water was needed for the Avon Lake plant, that it had to pump twice the amount of water as the city water works.  Upon its inception the Avon Lake plant became the largest of its kind in the world with a capacity of 400,000 horsepower.

The Avon Lake plant’s dependence on water led to an extraordinary dilemma on February 21, 1953.  That day, “great masses of gizzard shad” collapsed the plant’s water intake screens and caused each of the plants seven generators to instantly shut down.  This resulted in a significant power-outage throughout the entire greater Cleveland area.  After hours of scooping out the dead fish with a large crane, it took the work of another 50 men, including welders and divers, to fix the broken water intake screens submerged 35 feet deep.   The Ohio Division of Wildlife determined that a sudden and significant drop in temperature had killed the fish, which subsequently created a large aggregation of dead fish on the surface near the plants intake channel.

In addition to cool water, the plant also depended on a substantial amount of coal.  In 1950 the Avon Lake plant reportedly processed 4,000 tons of coal a day.  Despite a late-fifties effort by C.E.I. to beautify the immediate area surrounding the Avon Lake power plant, significant backlash over the plant’s environmental impact has led to its demise.  In November of 2011, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich publicly addressed the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA).  Kucinich urged the EPA to take action against the plant, now controlled by GenOn, and limit its toxic air pollution.  Kucinich cited that the “power plant in Avon Lake had released more than two million [tons] of toxic chemicals in 2010.”   The EPA determined that the Avon Lake power plant was guilty of excessive ozone emissions, and cited GenOn.  In order to become compliant under stricter EPA regulations, the power plant would have to undergo an overhaul costing hundreds of millions of dollars.  This pressured GenOn to announce their eminent decision to close the Avon Lake power plant, effective April 2015.

Rotor Installation

On July 31, 1926, this rotor was installed into the final turbo generator of C.E.I.’s power station in Avon Lake. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Explosive Vandalism

On April 11, 1935 a dynamite bomb blew out two legs of a C.E.I. electrical tower, which proceeded to collapse into a twin tower, at the Avon Lake Power Plant.   While the towers were down, the Avon Lake Power Plant’s capacity was limited from 190,000 horsepower to 30,000 horsepower.  It took repairmen less than 48 hours to get the towers back in commission. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Expressway for Power Transmission, 1963

C.E.I.’s assistant general manager, E.E. Noble, stated just prior to the opening of the Avon Lake plant, “This territory, extending 100 miles along Lake Erie between Avon and the Pennsylvania state line, will surpass any other industrial area in the world.” This illustration shows how C.E.I. placed in service a 345,000-volt line interconnecting its system with that of Ohio Power Co.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Turbogenerator, 1965

A local newspaper article contemporary to this photograph called the turbogenerator  the “world’s most important machine”’ for its power to drive huge industrial machines, its precision to keep electric clocks on split-second time, and its efficiency to light a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours on less than ¾ of a pound of coal.   The Avon Lake unit pictured generated 250,000-kilowatts.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Steam Locomotive, 1977

In 1925 C.E.I. created its own subsidiary railroad company, the Avon Railroad Co., to handle the transportation of large amounts of coal to the Avon Lake plant.  James Museone, left, and Albert Kissell, right, were the last two operators of the old steam locomotive at C.E.I.’s Avon Lake Power Plant.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Coal Pile from Walker Rd., 1978

C.E.I. stockpiled a significant amount of coal across the street from the Avon Lake plant.  The pile, approximately one mile long, is situated between Lake Rd. and Walker Rd. to this day.  Locals spoke out in 1958, however, as a band of merchants from the nearby Avon Lake Shopping Center successfully opposed C.E.I.’s proposition for a second enormous stockpile of coal.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Avon Lake Power Plant, 1967

In a 1960 effort to satiate locals and merchants, C.E.I. made a $210,000 landscaping initiative to transform the area directly across the street from the Avon Lake Shopping Center.   The venture included a 100-acre asphalt parking lot, and four acres of lawn containing 1,700 shrubs and 80 trees of varying sizes.  This view is from the perspective of the shopping center.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Wind Tunnel Test at NYU, 1953

A scale model of the Illuminating Co.’s Avon Lake Power Plant was placed in a wind tunnel to check air currents’ effect on stack smoke.  The pollution generated by the Avon Lake Power Plant has been a controversial subject, one that has led to the plants planned shutdown in April 2015.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.


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6 Responses to Avon Lake Power Plant

  1. Avatar of Mark Souther Mark Souther says:

    Fantastic. I like the whole site as it stands. Perhaps others will have critiques for you to consider, but this stands up well without further action.

  2. Avatar of zlafleur zlafleur says:

    Being an Avon Lake resident, I found this article incredibly fascinating as well. My critique really isn’t a suggestion so much as it is a question. The Avon Lake Power Plant is a menacing building in a city that up until the past few decades was pretty much a farm town, and I’m just simply curious what the plans for the building happen to be after the plant is closed?

  3. Avatar of rjprice88 rjprice88 says:

    Being from the East Side, I was fully unaware of the existence of the Avon Lake power plant. Seeing the size of the plant shows the fact that Cleveland was a major player in industry back in the early 1900’s that they were able to develop at it’s time the largest plant of it’s kind in the world. It’s ashame of the accident in the 1950’s and their decision today to close the plant in 2015 instead of investing in the overhaul to keep it going. I always dislike seeing industry close or leave the Cleveland Area. However, great images to support your descriptions, that image of the turbo generator is amazing, it looks like a modern marvel.

    • Pete Lyman says:

      I can attest to the truly amazing sight of the afore mentioned turbine/generators along with the turbine/generators from the original 1923 installations, and later generations of generators . My father worked at the “Avon Plant” for 42 yrs and I have been privileged to tours of “The Plant” since the age of 12 yrs old (I’m now 52). You can see Burke Lakefront Airport from the 10th floor windows. Also, the big smokestack is 600 ft high.

  4. Pete Lyman says:

    My father worked at “the plant” for 42 yrs, starting as a plant maintenance helper, advancing to a “Plant Watch Engineer” and told many stories of his lifetime there. I appreciate the above info to add to the understanding of my family’s part in the history of the cleveland area. I have in my possession a certificate from the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition stating that my grandfather lit the world’s largest incandescent light bulb (150,000 watts), which was developed by G. E. at Nela Park.

  5. Carl P. Luther says:

    Absolutely fantastic reading. I grew up in the Lorain County area and am amazed at the history of this plant. I do not think Kucinich, or any other politician, realize the ramifications of closing that plant down. I do think that GenOn should reconsider their decision of not investing any money in that plant to get it up to par concerning emissions. I hope that it can survive this “green crusade” but am not that optimistic…

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