Fifty years ago, when two generating units at Cardinal Power Plant were first placed into operation, Buckeye Power was a newly minted generation cooperative, formed and owned by all of the electric distribution cooperatives in Ohio. American Electric Power (AEP), which built the Cardinal plant, offered a unique partnership agreement to Buckeye Power and its member cooperatives: AEP and Buckeye Power would each own one of the two units, and AEP would operate the plant — at cost — for its partner.
“From the start, it only made good sense to partner with AEP to run our unit at Cardinal,” says Tom Alban, Buckeye Power’s vice president of power generation. “We each owned one of the units, and they had the experience and know-how to take the operational responsibility. It’s been a truly beneficial relationship for all of these years.”
Due to growth in the number of electric consumers, the Ohio cooperatives added another unit at the Cardinal site in 1977. Cardinal Units 2 and 3 continue to be the workhorses of the co-ops’ fleet, but through the years, Buckeye Power has added to its generation portfolio and now is more diverse than ever before.
“Having AEP operate our plants alongside their own worked extremely well for 50 years,” says Pat O’Loughlin, president and CEO of Buckeye Power. “When investments in emissions control systems were required to comply with regulations, AEP and Buckeye Power shared these costs to meet our common objectives. With AEP operating our plants, we were able to gain efficiencies and rely on an experienced company to ensure an environmentally responsible and reliable delivery of power to our members.”
Changes in the regulation of Ohio investor-owned utilities over the past several years have led AEP to close or sell many of its generating plants. Investor-owned utility customers now rely primarily on electricity purchased from the wholesale market rather than having it produced by their local utility. Ohio’s electric cooperatives have seen the benefit of stable prices that has come from owning and operating competitive and efficient power plants such as Cardinal.
The longtime partners agreed, therefore, that a change in roles would be appropriate. So while AEP still owns Unit 1 at the plant, Buckeye Power officially took operational charge of all three units in March of this year, after two years of negotiation and preparation. The 320 staff members there became employees of the Cardinal Operating Company, now directed by Buckeye Power management.
In addition, Buckeye Power now operates both the Robert P. Mone Plant in Convoy and the Greenville Generating Station in Darke County — both natural-gas-fueled plants that produce during times of higher energy demand.
“We’re excited for the opportunity this transition has given us,” O’Loughlin says. “While our consumer-members should not see any difference, we’ll be working to identify opportunities for cost savings and improvements in the daily operation of the plant that will keep the Cardinal plant competitive for years to come.”
Operating the plant also lets the co-ops have greater say in ensuring that the power provided by their power company remains safe, clean, affordable, and reliable. Co-ops have invested more than $1 billion in the last decade on environmental safeguards at Cardinal and have a vested interest in keeping it running at its best.