What Fueled the Power Plant? Part III

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:

Power plant fuel oil shipments 1925From 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.




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15 Responses to What Fueled the Power Plant? Part III

  1. Thank you for continuing to dig into this topic! I enjoyed our walk back there and wish I had taken some photos myself.

    Enjoy the fall weather while it is gentle!

  2. C Kelly says:

    H. O. Clarke is Hiram Clarke for whom a power station near South Main & Post Oak Blvd was named. I’m not sure if it’s still known by that name.

  3. Melissa Kean says:

    Oh, that’s good. I did not know that.

    • effegee says:

      The Hiram O. Clarke generating plant property was the southwest corner of the intersection of US90A and Hiram Clarke Rd. Houston Industries’ subsidiary HL&P renamed its West Junction generating plant for Clarke following his death in 1950 (see http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/67/HOUSTON-INDUSTRIES-INCORPORATED.html).

      The generating plant was taken offline in the mid-1980’s, probably a casualty of the completion of the South Texas nuclear plant. The 500MW switchyard that was part of the plant in continued to operate. Due to “deregulation” the switchyard is operated by CenterPoint Energy today.

      The old plant site apparently was purchased in 2009 by Biofuels Power which is pursuing powering generators with a variety of liquid fuels including vegetable oil and the output of an onsite gas-to-liquid pilot plant. Biofuels Power has renamed the site “Houston Clean Energy Park”. (Google “hiram o clarke power plant” for a half dozen media articles about BioFuels Power’s acquisition and plans for the H O Clarke plant.)

  4. This reminds me of when John Dragovits, President of Will Rice College, worked out a deal to convert the college dryers to natural gas. When all the costs and rebates were done, WRC was about $50 in the black. John went on to a fine career in accounting in the US Navy and beyond.

    I ran into him in the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth once. Howdy!

  5. mjthannisch says:

    I’m pretty sure the plant is still known by that name, and so I guess Hiram Clark road was named for the plant and not vice versa.

  6. Matt Noall says:

    Hmm. $1.91/barrel. Think what that translates to NOW! Good thing the switch was made then. Of course they did not have any means for other sources then….

  7. Keith Cooper says:

    By chance, is that roughly when the German High Hat street lamps appear?

  8. Mark Kapalski says:

    so that is what the railroad tracks were for that lead into plant #1 ?

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  12. Dennis Hogan says:

    SA&AP Ry had a spur into the Rice campus to bring building materials and fuel oil.

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