TVAChappellDRAKESBORO, Ky. (2/4/20) — For more than five decades, Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise Steam Plant, from the banks of the Green River in western Kentucky near Drakesboro, supplied power for the region and the valley beyond.

Unit 3 was retired Saturday, which was once the largest megawatt capacity power plant in Kentucky. Units 1 and 2, retired in 2017 were replaced with natural gas powered turbines. Constructed in 1963, the coal-fired units were once the largest in the world. In 1969, Unit 3 construction was complete and ready for operation.

Jimmy Chappell, a young operator from the electrical control wing, was the first to crank up Unit 3 in late 1969. TVA recognized the date in early 1970.

“I was the very first to do that," Chappell said. "At the time, I had nothing to do with the starting and stopping of this huge machine, that was all done by the men and women on the steam side of the plant. Back then, when it came time for us to tie it to the TVA grid, you had to close a great big breaker, and when it closed, Unit 3’s output was tied to the TVA system; taking it online, tied to the grid, ready for the service of producing sellable power.”

Last Valentine's Day, TVA Board of Directors decided by a 5-2 vote to close Unit 3 by December. The retirement of Units 1 and 2 had cut coal consumption in half in Muhlenberg County, creating deep concerns over the economic impact it would have countywide for years to come. 

“I do not think people have grasped how this will affect us," Chappell said. "Everybody from the coal haulers to coal miners. Can you imagine the tax monies that our schools are losing, millions and millions of dollars TVA paid in lieu of taxes? When the talk came around to shutting that unit down, I told some of the guys, you know, I was the first one to ever parallel that thing and put Unit 3 online, don’t you?”

“It made me think, wouldn’t that be a neat thing to pass on to my kids and grandkids, that near 50 years later, from me turning a switch, putting it online, to me pushing a button to take it offline?"

Chappell did just that Saturday afternoon, while at the controls of for the last day at Unit 3.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction from the public," he said. "Channel 25 pulled up to my door, channel 7 has called, television stations from Knoxville, Tennessee — all trying to get ahold of me … newspapers and everybody.” “It was never made public that I’d be at the plant to shut down Unit 3. Some of the guys out there were enthused by it, there wasn’t a big deal made about it.”

Chappell retired after a 34-year career at Paradise.

“After that many years with that quality of people, it was amazing," he said. "The operators on Saturday could have started their own history book, but they said, ‘No, absolutely not. You are here, and it would be an honor for you to take it offline for the last time.'"

“Chad Hadley was his escort for the day.

"I love him dearly; he is like the son I never had," Chappell said. "What a wonderful thing —  he got to be with me the entire day. It made me feel so good. It was such an emotional time.”

“Just when I thought I was going to be all right, every time I tried to talk, nothing would come out. I had a 34-year career there and it hurt like the dickens.“It was so sweet, watching those guys the other day, work together, it’s like watching a pitcher and a catcher, working together. Just like when I was in there doing it, the same comradery we had back then, except we had to fight them ol’ boogers to keep them online, because we didn’t have the controls they have now, all those years later.” Chappell added wistfully. “You just had to be there.” 

“Everyone pulled together. When there was really bad weather, and we couldn’t keep the units on, we all worked together, and trust me, we did not have it bad on our side compared to the folks on the steam side of the plant.”

With a laugh, Chappell asked, “You know what turbine taters are? My daughter Michelle has the recipe … you take a pot of potatoes along with other ingredients put them on the turbine to cook. Once they were done, everyone grabbed a fork and a plate, and we all ate. There was always a pot of beans or chili for everyone to share. “If you could get a small part of the stories from the hundreds and hundreds of people that were in and out of that old steam plant, you’d have something.” 

In closing, Chappell said, “You have to realize that’s a mighty long time for a fossil plant to stay online and I’ll tell you this: I did not shut that plant down, TVA shut that plant down.”

Kathrine Newman TImmons

SurfKY News Reporter

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