Nine-Story Boiler House Imploded in Trenton, MI

June 21, 2024
A thunderous explosion of firecrackers on steroids brought the 180-foot-tall structure crashing down.

Charles E. Ramirez

The Detroit News


Trenton — It only took an instant for the nine-story building once DTE Energy's Trenton Channel Power Plant boiler house to collapse into a giant mound of rubble.

A thunderous explosion of firecrackers on steroids, a wave of flames, and an enormous grayish-black cloud and the 180-foot-tall structure was no longer standing on the Detroit River's banks Friday morning.

"It was absolutely amazing," said Grosse Ile Township resident Joe Diaz, 48, who watched the building fall from across the river at the Water's Edge Marina near West River Road and Bellevue Road.

DTE Energy demolished the boiler house at 6 a.m. Friday as part of its effort to build the region's largest battery storage facility and shift toward clean energy.

The demolition comes about three months after the company took down the shuttered 102-year-old Trenton plant's two brick smokestacks.

Diaz, a carpenter, said he came to the same place to see the demolition of the smokestacks. "I think this was much more intense," he said.

DTE Energy officials said everything for the collapse of the building went according to plan.

"I think it went fantastic, just as we had planned," said Renee Tomina, the company's senior vice president of project management organization. "Once the explosives were lit, the building collapsed upon itself and we were able to safely and successfully bring the boiler house down. As you saw, the smoke and dust dissipated over the water exactly as we expected."

Tomina gave the media a short briefing across the river from the power plant at the Water's Edge Marina. She laid out some of the demolition's details.

For instance, she explained there were two kinds of explosives used to bring the building down, suspension charges and dynamite. "All in all, we had over 1,000 pounds of explosives," the DTE executive said.

She said the turbine house that's still standing next to where the boiler house once was is set to be demolished in the next few weeks. "We're going to use mechanical equipment, excavators and other heavy equipment to bring that building down," Tormina said. "That's because of the size of the building and we have already taken much of it a part."

Before zero hour, there was a steady spray of water directed at the boiler house to minimize dust and smoke once it collapsed. Spectators waited to watch the show at the marina or across West River Road on the property of the Water's Edge Golf Club. Some brought lawn chairs while others came on bikes. Some brought their spouses and others brought their kids.

Brian Kostielney, 48, was among them. He brought his two sons, Theodore, 8, and Paul, 6, with him. They claimed a spot on the lawn of the golf club.

"I couldn't bring them for the smokestacks because they had school that morning," he said before the building collapsed.

Theodore said he has never seen a building being demolished before.

"What do you think it's going to be like? Loud?" his dad asked him. The boy nodded.

Kostielney said he's looking forward to having something new on the waterfront facing the island he calls home. "I know they're going to turn it into a new battery thing," he said. "I think it'll be better than being an eyesore."

Until they were demolished in March, the Trenton Channel site hosted a pair of 600-foot-tall "candy cane" red-and-white striped smokestacks that were a landmark for the Downriver community. DTE burned coal for generating electricity at the site from 1924 until 2022.

DTE Energy plans to build a large-scale battery storage facility at the site of the former Trenton Channel Power Plant, a coal-burning power plant that was retired in 2022 after nearly a century of generating electricity Downriver.

The Trenton Channel Energy Center will be able to store 220 megawatts of electricity, enough juice to power 40,000 homes, according to the Detroit utility.

DTE expects the project to be the biggest standalone battery energy storage project in the Great Lakes region when it's completed in 2026.

Battery storage allows utilities to squirrel away extra renewable electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels on windy, sunny days. Then, the grid can draw energy from those batteries when energy demands outstrip the wind and sun's supplies.

The cost of the near 20-acre Trenton battery storage facility is approaching $500 million, DTE Energy CEO Jerry Norcia said earlier this month.

The company has received approximately $140 million in tax incentives through the Inflation Reduction Act's infrastructure investment provisions.


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