Steam plant conversion means cleaner Indy air

The Perry K plant uses steam to power several downtown businesses.
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A downtown steam plant is taking major step forward to clean up the air around Indianapolis.

The Perry K steam plant sits between Lucas Oil Stadium and Victory Field, peeking out of the Indianapolis skyline.

"We've been here since about 1893," said plant operator Bob Purdue. "This building used to power Indianapolis in the 1920s."

Now, it steams all of downtown.

"Eli Lilly uses it in their processing," Purdue said.

As does IUPUI, a number of hotels, hospitals and stadiums like Bankers Life Fieldhouse. the steam can provide heat and hot water.

Inside, the five-story building is an intricate system of stairs and walkways. But longtime coal burners that have been used for decades are being closed down, resulting in cleaner air around Indianapolis.

"It will reduce our CO2 numbers from 1,800 tons a year to 10 tons," Purdue said.

A long conversion project became a reality earlier this month when the first of four natural gas burners came online.

"We don't have to remove the ashes and have coal ran everyday. The natural gas just comes off the system and the gas flows to the new burners," Purdue said.

That also means the elimination of 16,000 tons of trash. Not only is it more environmentally friendly, it's also more cost-efficient.

"Our customers will save $15 million in capital costs," Purdue said.

Sparks fly as crews convert three more burners to natural gas. A control room keeps everything in check, but now it's all digital.

While the conversion is expected to be all done by June 2014, you'll still continue to see the iconic pillars humming with activity.

"Our stacks, in the wintertime, you'll tend to see a steam plume from them. That's moisture in the air," Purdue said.

That air mass will soon be much cleaner.

After the conversion of the four burners to natural gas, the downtown plant will employ nearly 50 people working around the clock.