The power station was commissioned in 1962 with 6 turbines with a nominal capacity of 180 megawatts, and operated by the City of Cape Town. Between 1985 and 1994 the station was held on standby, but it resumed generating in 1995 with a reduced capacity of 120 MW. Between 1995 and 2003 it was mainly used to generate power in peak demand periods and during power failures of the national grid. In 2003, significant investment was required due to the age of the power station, and generation was stopped. The site is in the process of being decommissioned. Athlone is the last coal-fired power station still standing in Cape Town; the others, in the city centre and Salt River, were demolished in the 1980s and 1990s. The cost of transport means that coal costs three to five times more in Cape Town than it does near the mines inland; this makes it more economical to transmit power from there to Cape Town than to generate power in Cape Town from transported coal.
The station's two cooling towers formed a landmark on the N2 freeway into the city, and were fed by reclaimed water from a nearby sewage plant. The lifespan of the towers was extended in 1993 through the addition of reinforcing bands, but on 14 February 2010, the bands on one tower collapsed, leading the city to announce that the towers would be demolished by the end of April 2010 to prevent their collapse; the demolition was postponed to 22 August 2010 when they were finally demolished. The facebrick power station building and two 99m high chimneys were not included in this demolition.