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Plant Sweatt celebrates 50 years

By Staff
GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY Former Plant Sweatt manager Lavalle Massey, foreground, and current manager Bill Anderson reminisce about old times. Behind the men is one of the plant's General Electric 40-megawatt turbines. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
Oct. 14, 2001
Power plants don't usually get a lot of publicity unless the lights go out, but Plant Sweatt on Valley Road will be the center of attention Monday as employees celebrate its golden anniversary.
One of the guests planning to attend the celebration is Lavalle Massey, 66, of Meridian, who was plant manager from 1978 until his retirement in 1994.
During Massey's watch, the plant was upgraded several times and stringent state and federal environmental regulations were implemented.
Computers were introduced in the plant and automation became more commonplace during the years Massey oversaw day-to-day operations. When he started as Sweatt's plant manager, operators still manually controlled the boilers and turbines that generate electricity.
About the people
Of the plant's achievements, Massey is proudest of a successful experimental synthetic fuel burn the plant performed in the mid-1980s.
Current plant manager Bill Anderson also gives a lot of credit to the employees.
In 1970, Plant Sweatt became the first Mississippi Power plant to hit a million work hours without a lost-time accident a company record it still holds.
Massey said the work at Plant Sweatt was enjoyable, challenging and important. "We make sure the electricity is there when people turn on their light switch," he said.
How the plant works
Plant Sweatt is a fossil fuel power plant. The fuel is used to heat mineral-free water in huge boilers to produce steam. The steam is "super-heated" to about 900 degrees and is used to power turbine generators that produce electricity. Most of the water used is recycled after the steam goes through condensation.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Plant Sweatt established a reputation for dependable generation for extended periods of time, and on short notice. It supplied the bulk of electricity to Mississippi Power customers in Meridian and the surrounding area.
In the 1970s, when larger generating plants were added in Harrison and Jackson counties on the Gulf Coast, Plant Sweatt's role changed to that of a peaking facility, used mostly when the demand for electricity is high due to the weather or because of power outages.
A half-century of history
The need for the power-generating plant 50 years ago came with Meridian's steady growth as a transportation and commercial center. Plant Sweatt was Mississippi Power's second power generating plant. The first was Plant Eaton, located on the Leaf River near Hattiesburg. It began operation in 1945.
On June 25, 1948, L.P. Sweatt, president of Mississippi Power Company, announced plans for a new $4 million generating plant to be located near Meridian.
On Oct. 17, 1949, Mississippi Gov. Fielding Wright turned the first shovel of dirt in the ground-breaking ceremony on Valley Road in southern Lauderdale County.
Soon after the ground breaking, earth-moving contractors began work on the local road and GM&O Railroad crews began laying track to the plant site.
Nearly 38,000 feet of steel pipe piling, filled with 760 cubic yards of concrete, were used in the plant's foundation. A well 900 feet deep was drilled. Nearly 66,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved to prepare the site.
At 2:30 p.m. on June 15, 1951, Meridian Mayor Laurence Pain turned a valve that set the first unit generator at Plant Sweatt in motion, putting it in full commercial operation with a generating capacity of 40,000 kilowatts.
In 1953, the plant's generating capacity was doubled to 80,000 kilowatts with a second unit generator.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at sgillespie@themeridianstar.com.
Monday's events:
Scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., Monday's celebration at the plant will include a luncheon and comments from:
Mike Garrett, president and CEO of Mississippi Power Company;
Paul Bowers, president of Southern Company Generation and Energy Marketing;
Jimmie Smith, president of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors; and
John Robert Smith, mayor of Meridian.

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