A coal ship helps keep New England lights burning brightly

Guy W. Nichols, former chairman of the New England Electric System, gave history buffs something to talk about at the start of this decade. He decided to commission construction of the first oceangoing coal-fired collier to be built in the United States in over half a century. The $73 million gamble on the Energy Independence has paid off. Some two years since it was launched in Quincy, Mass., by General Dynamics Shipbuilding Division, the vessel has proved to be an economic and technical success.

Glenn R. Schleede, president of New England Energy Inc., a subsidiary of the utility, says Energy Independence carries about 90 percent of New England Electric's coal requirements to the company's waterfront power plants in Salem and Somerset, Mass. Chartered barges bring in the remainder.

At first the owners of the ship (New England Electric, 51 percent; Keystone Shipping Company, 49 percent) had some problems with the the 665-foot long, 95-foot wide ship, recalls Mr. Schleede. Fine coal stuck to the sides of its hoppers, refusing to slide down its 42-degree slopes to the conveyor belts below. The collier was taking as much as 6,000 of the 40,000 tons it carries back to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newport News, or Norfolk, Va., the ports where it takes on coal.

Installation of a lining of hard, slippery plastic in the bins remedied the problem. Now only 20 to 30 tons are left in the ship after unloading.

Mr. Schleede boasts about how the collier, traveling at 15.7 knots, has been able to make a round trip every 4.5 days on average, saving about a day on original calculations. One reason is the short time it takes to load (average 12 hours) and to unload (under 11 hours), both quicker than anticipated.

Using a 260-foot boom, the self-discharging ship unloads coal directly onto the power plant stockpiles at a rate of 3,800 tons per hour. Loading requires close coordination of the arrival of coal (four unit trains, or 440 carloads per shipload) from the mines in West Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia.

The ship is carrying something over 3 million of the 3.5 million tons the utility burns each year. To propel itself, the collier burns about 250 tons of coal per round trip in its two boilers. -- D. R. F.

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