This power plant saga has the potential to surpass even my legendary Drainage Series in terms of sheer excitement. The most fun I have at work is finding things that have been lost and thinking hard about things that have been forgotten or ignored. This is that, in spades.
So yesterday I was walking back from the FE&P offices and I ran into Richard Johnson, Rice’s Director of Energy and Sustainability. In one of those coincidences that seem to happen regularly these days, he had come across a folder full of papers about the power plant. There turned out to be some amazing stuff in there. (It’s now tucked away into it’s proper place in the Woodson). The most astonishing–and timely–thing was a xerox copy of a 1925 report submitted by Mr. H.O. Clarke, Jr. of Houston Lighting and Power to Mr. John T. Scott, then one of Rice’s trustees. In essence it’s a proposal to provide the Institute all of it’s power and decommission the plant. Obviously we didn’t do that but it’s still an extremely informative document—it analyzes the plant’s operations in pretty good (and sometimes rather odd) detail. I’ll give you all the detail you want (or can stomach) but for right now the relevant piece is this:
From September, 1924 to May, 1925–one academic year–we burned 32 tanker cars of oil. Look at how often those deliveries came, roughly three times every month, which explains why there are so many images of the Mech Lab with part of a tanker visible. It was also pretty darn expensive.
I then of course began to wonder how this report came to be. Was it marketing by HL&P? Believe it or not, readers, I cared about this enough to drop what I was working on and go looking. Happily, I found a good answer almost immediately. In May, 1925 the Rice Board of Trustees appointed J.T. Scott a committee of one to investigate less expensive alternatives for campus power. He solicited this report and in October brought it to the board, which in turn passed it on to William Ward Watkin for his thoughts. They also asked him to check into the possibility of keeping Rice’s power generation capacity but switching to natural gas as the fuel. In May of 1926 that’s exactly what they decided to do, signing the contract with Houston Gas and Fuel that resulted in the ad I posted yesterday.
That’s not all, but it’s all for today.