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Inverkip Power Station

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Inverkip Power Station
Inverkip Power Station

Inverkip Power Station was located on the eastern shore of the Firth of Clyde, between Inverkip and Wemyss Bay in Inverclyde. The South of Scotland Electricity Board (SSEB) began construction in 1970, and it was to be Scotland's first oil fired power station, but the oil crisis of 1973 intervened, with the price of a barrel of OPEC oil quadrupling by 1974 and rendering operation of the station uneconomic. Inverkip became Scotland's only oil fired power station.

From the air, 2007
From the air
© Thomas Nugent

Description

Five flues and steel doors, 2009
Five flues and steel doors
© Ben Cooper

The coastal location meant the station could draw its cooling water from the sea, eliminating the need for large cooling towers on the site. This meant that the most imposing feature on the site was the 778 foot (236 m) high chimney. Completed in 1976, this beccame the third tallest chimney in the UK and Scotland's tallest free-standing structure. Inverkip’s chimney, the tallest free standing structure in Scotland and third tallest in the UK. It is said to contain more than 1,400,000 bricks and 20,000 tonnes of concrete. The chimney is usually referred to as containing four flues, but in fact carries five, with a smaller flue located just inside the outer circumference. The main turbo-generators were manufactured by Parsons, with many of the major components being interchangeable with those used in the turbo-generators at the Hunterston B nuclear power station to the south. The main boilers were fired from cold on propane gas, and the gas storage tanks were located on the seaward side of the chimney for safety reason, in the event of a leak or explosion. Once they had reached operating temperature, the main boilers would be switched to heavy oil. The auxiliary boilers ran on diesel oil. Although these boilers were smaller than the main units, they were still large units, and comparable in size to a large detached house.

During construction of of the station, concerns were expressed by residents of Greenock, a few miles to the northeast and potentially downwind of the new chimney. SSEB went to considerable lengths to convince those concerned that the height of the chimney meant that any fumes would pass well above the town. A suggestion that the chimney would be landscaped in some way is said to have been met with some derision from locals, with suggestions that ivy be planted top and bottom, in the hope that it would eventually meet in the middle.

By the time construction had been completed, and the station was ready go on line, the price of oil had risen to a level that rendered base load operation of the plant uneconomic, and while the three generators which had been installed could have generated some 1,900 MW, only 800 MW was normally available for use as top up during period of peak demand, with the the remaining capacity being mothballed. The only time the station operated at full capacity was when it was brought on line was between 1984 and 1985, during the the miners' strike.

Power generation ended at Inverkip when the plant was placed on care and maintenance around 1988, and classified as a strategic reserve, but has never been used.

For information, in 1996, the total electricity generating capacity in Scotland was approximately 10 GW, with a peak winter demand of about 6 GW. This total excluded Inverkip which was then describe as under care and maintenance. (Seen in Hansard).

Flue detail

The four large flues were intended to serve the four main boilers planned for the station, however only the first three boilers were installed and became operational before the fourth was cancelled, resulting the fourth being unused and capped. Each main flue was fitted with a set of steel doors towards the top and bottom, intended to provide access for a descaling machine.

The smaller fifth flue was located to the east, between the main flues for boilers 1 and 2, and served the auxiliary boilers, located in the auxiliary boiler house situated on the landward side of the chimney base. The station's auxiliary boilers provided trace heating, oil pre-heating, and other general running of the station.

Each main flue was lined with individual fire bricks, and had to be flailed every year(dependant on service). This operation involved building a scaffold at the top of the flue and placing a beam across the opening. A cable would then be passed down through the centre of the flue with a weight and chains attached. A motor would then spin the cable, causing the ends of the chains to contact the brick lining of the flue while the cable was being raised from the bottom to the top of the flue. On completion of this operation, an SSEB engineer would to inspect the flue lining to make sure no damage had been caused. This required the engineer to be hoisted up the inside of the chimney in an open top cage (bucket as it was called). The job was not considered popular, progress of the bucket up the flue was far from rapid, and was done with a steeplejack in attendance.

Fatalities

Vacuum warning sign2008, Ben Cooper
Vacuum warning sign
© Ben Cooper

During construction of the station, two fatalities were reported.

One of these occurred during hydraulic testing of the boilers, possibly Unit 1. Such test are normally carried out by filling the unit under with liquid (water), and raising them to test pressure. This will exceed the normal operating by a specified amount, for safety margin, with the Inverkip boilers operating at 180 bar (and 500°C superheat in actual operation). Water is effectively incompressible and contains little energy under pressure, unlike superheated steam, which stores a huge amount of energy, and could result in an explosive failure should a boiler fail. On completion of testing, the water must be drained, and a fitter was despatched to open the access door from the main steam drum, to allow air in and allow the water to drain freely. Normally, steam pressure within the drum forces the door against its seal, forcing it shut. However, as the drum drained, a partial vacuum formed within the drum, tending to pull the door into the drum. When the fitter released the two holding dogs on the door, and then struck it with a hammer to break the seal, atmospheric pressure immediately forced the door into drum, and the sudden inrush of air dragged the fitter into the opening, where he became trapped by his shoulder and upper torso. On-site emergency services attended immediately, but he died at the scene. The tragedy was said to have affected all those on the site.

Following this incident, warning signs were introduced next to the access doors, specifying the order of work when opening them. The CC Ltd reference on the lower right corner of the sign is taken to refer to Clarke-Chapman Ltd, one of the sub-contractors involved with the site, and believed to have been the employer of the fitter concerned.

Electricity distribution station

Cable access shaft, 2007
Cable access shaft
© Thomas Nugent

Through a series of underground cables, the power station connected to an electricity distribution station built on the hillside to the east, on the opposite side of the A78 road. This then connected to the national grid through overhead cables brought to the area by two lines of pylons. The overhead lines lead to the south, then east, towards Duchal Moor, where they then diverge to the north and south.

Electricity distribution station, 2007
Electricity distribution station
© Thomas Nugent

Concrete water tank

Concrete water tank, 2008, Fox
Concrete water tank

A large reinforced concrete water storage or holding tank, was built on the hillside to the east, on the opposite side of the A78 road.

This was a fresh water tank, intended to supply the three main boilers and the auxiliaries. The water was filtered and treated in a water treatment plant located between turbine 2 and 3, similar to a deionising plant, and strictly monitored by station personnel/chemists. The capacity of the tank was such that the boilers could not only be topped up and maintained, but could be filled from empty.

When first filled, cracks were seen to appear in the tank, worrying both contractor and owner. Reinforcement was added, and the capacity was reduced. An indication of the loads involved can be gained from a description of the boilers, which are suspended from the roof of the boiler house, and said to drop by 24 inches when filled and operational, due to the weight of water, and expansion due to the effect of heat and pressure.

Privatisation and acquisition

In 1991, the SSEB was privatised and the station became the property of ScottishPower - the trading name of Scottish Power UK plc - which planned to strip out the plant and sell it to China or India.

In April 2007, ScottishPower was acquired by Iberdrola (described as one of the leading private electric utilities worldwide, and the largest renewable energy operator in the world).

The station has been explored and photographed by a number of urban explorers over the years, and these reports have shown that much of the the equipment remains in place, although there is evidence that some plant has been removed, leaving gaps in some areas. Much of the equipment is powered, and dehumidifiers are installed to preserve plant and machinery that could be damaged by condensation. Communication and telephone systems remain functional, and the site has active security and personnel on patrol.

LNG tanker visits

LNG Port Harcourt (Nestor), 1988
LNG Port Harcourt (Nestor) 1988
© Thomas Nugent

During the 1970s, two newly completed refrigerated LNG (liquified natural gas) tankers (Nestor and Gastor) were immediately laid up in Loch Striven, victims of the discovery of North Sea oil/gas. Originally built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique in France, Nestor and Gastor were completed in 1976 and 1977 respectively, and had been intended to transport LNG from Algeria or Nigeria.

The tankers were purchased by Shell in the late 1980s, to be returned to service during the 1990s for use in the Nigerian trade. In 1992, French ship repair yard Sobrena won the contract for the 2˝ month refurbishment of Shell's LNG Port Harcourt, originally built as Nestor. In 1999, Sobrena was again selected for the refurbishment of Shell's LNG Lagos, originally built as Gastor.[1] The tankers were first taken to the pier at the power station, where engineers reactivated the vessels and made them safe in readiness for their sea voyage to French yard.

Main pier, 2009
Main pier
© John Ferguson

The vessel image is described as a rare scanned image of the steam powered LNG Port Harcourt (originally built in France as Nestor for the Blue Funnel Line in 1976), berthed at the power station pier during reactivation, viewed from Finnockbog Road.

Note that the the circular tops of the three oil storage tanks serving the power station can also be seem in the foreground of the vessel image.

Small mooring pier, 2009
Small mooring pier
© John Ferguson

Hydrogen proposal

In the Hansard equivalent of reports from the Northern Ireland Assembly of 2002, a letter by a Scottish writer regarding Inverkip (and the other coastal power stations) was read out, proposing that these be used to exploit hydrogen as a fuel source:

Mr A Doherty:

I will devote the rest of my precious time to Sandy Bain, whose letter to the ‘Sunday Herald’ in Scotland was published on 17 March 2002. Like a good Irish politician, I was in Scotland on that day.

The letter reads:

"It is disappointing that so much of the debate about Scotland’s energy needs 10 or more years in the future is being conducted with reference to 20th century technology. The coming pollution-free fuel is hydrogen. . More importantly, however, using electricity from renewable sources to produce hydrogen will give a much greater degree of flexibility.

Electricity derived from wind, wave and tidal power at locations along the northwest coast and in the Western Isles should be used to produce hydrogen from sea water. This hydrogen would then be transported by sea in gas tankers to the existing coastal thermal power stations at Peterhead, Inverkip, Cockenzie and Longannet, adapted to use hydrogen as fuel. The electricity produced would be distributed to consumers through the existing national grid, removing the need to lay an expensive subsea cable or despoil our scenic areas with overhead lines. The unreliability of renewable sources of electricity will be overcome too. Ideally Clyde shipyards would build the gas tankers required and Scottish engineering companies would become market leaders in building the hydrogen production plants and doing power station conversions. Any surplus hydrogen could, of course, be exported worldwide."

- Northern Ireland Assembly. Monday 13 May 2002.[2]

Development

In May 2007, ScottishPower carried out a three day public consultation in Inverkip regarding plans to demolish the station and replace it with residential housing and other facilities including a boatyard and restaurant. The site could contain between 400 and 600 houses. Almost 90% of those surveyed (a sample of 229) backed the proposals, with almost as many seeking a new transport link to connect the development with Inverkip and Wemyss Bay - congestion of the existing A78 was a concern when they considered the increase in traffic the development would bring, added to current developments already underway between Largs and Skelmorlie on the A78 to the south.

The company planned to have removed all existing buildings by spring 2009.[3]

However, this did not happen as planned, and demolition was delayed for years.

Demolition

With little real publicity, demolition of the power station began internally, during 2012 or earlier, as plant and machinery was dismantled and removed from the site, clearing the interior in readiness for demolition of the building.

Demolition began in earnest in 2013, with most of the buildings being removed in stages, and latterly by explosive demolition. Scottish Power demolished the last remaining boiler house building on Wednesday, 6 February, 2013, at 3 pm, using controlled explosions.[4]

The last part to go will be the chimney, expected to be brought down spring/early summer 2014, although no date had been finalised when this was written.

Chimney blowdown

Local gallery.[5]

References

1 LNG Port Harcourt and LNG Lagos refurbished at Sobrena yard, France.

2 Northern Ireland Assembly. Monday 13 May 2002.

3 Power houses. Greenock Telegraph, August 21, 2007.

4 Inverkip Power Station Demolition of Boiler House - 06 February 2013 on Vimeo Retrieved April 06, 2013.

5 Photo Galleries | News | Greenock Telegraph Retrieved August 11, 2013.

Photographs

Inverkip from Innellan, 2012
Inverkip from Innellan
© Thomas Nugent
Inverkip demolition, 2012
Inverkip demolition
© Thomas Nugent
Inverkip demolition, 2012
Inverkip demolition
© Thomas Nugent
Inverkip demolition, 2012
Inverkip demolition
© Thomas Nugent
Inverkip demolition, 2012
Inverkip demolition
© Thomas Nugent

External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-

 

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