The Richard L. Hearn Generating Station, located in Toronto, Ontario, was officially opened October 26, 1951. It began as a coal-burning plant, heating boilers and using the subsequent steam to turn generating turbines to produce electricity. At its opening, only two, 100-MW units were in operation. By 1953, two more 100 MW units came online. Finally, the station reached its generating peak of 1200 MW on March 22, 1961, with the addition of four 200 MW units with two turbines each.
At peak production, the plant consumed approximately 440 tons of coal per hour, required 36 million gallons per hour of cooling water from Lake Ontario and employed about 600 people.
Originally, the plant featured 8 relatively small chimneys that removed smoke from the burning coal. These caused a substantial pollution issue for the city of Toronto. By 1971, a single 705-foot tall chimney was completed, at a cost of $9 million. It was one of the tallest structures in Toronto until the 1976 completion of the CN Tower.
Also around this time, the station was converted to using natural gas rather than coal. During this time, the plant used 40 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year, reducing the pollution it generated, but also reducing its efficiency, and increasing its cost to operate. Between 1978 and 1979, five units were taken off line. The last three 200 MW units were returned to burning coal until they too were taken off line in July, 1983.
Over the next couple of decades, the fate of this station has been uncertain. Different passing governments had planned to reopen the plant, but this never happened. Instead, a new plant has been constructed next door and began operation in June, 2008. Sale to Studios of America and Comweb Group, who planned to build a 300,000 square foot film studio on the site, also stalled and appeared to fail by 2006.
Most tragically, on June 15, 2008, an urban explorer fell into a coal chute and was badly injured. He died shortly afterwards in hospital.
As of June, 2010, a plan had been revealed considering the construction of a 3-pad arena. It remains to be seen if this will take place.
The first thing that hits you, almost physically, when you enter this building is the sheer size. It's enormous! With its boilers and turbines removed, you can see the full length of this vast building and it's difficult to comprehend the size. It's also loud. Or it least it was the day I was there. The cold wind was blowing in off the lake, and it seemed as though every plate on the substantial roof was vibrating and rattling.
As I slowly made my way through the gloomy expanse, stopping here and there to take pictures, my imagination wandered to what it must have been like at its peak in the '60's. Loud, dirty, hot and filled with people working to keep power flowing to the city behind it. Also, I was constantly aware of the life that had been lost here, a fellow explorer not so different from myself.
With so much removed, the highlight of the station had to be the control room. Filled with row upon row of switches, dials, and gauges of various sorts. Lines were drawn on the boards to illustrate the flow of power from breaker to breaker. Much of it was incomprehensible to the likes of me who barely understands the working of a conventional light switch, so I couldn't help but be impressed by all of this, old as it was.
Despite the weather, this proved to be an excellent trip, and an excellent close to my 2010 exploration season.