Progress Energy Carolinas will shut down its three-unit, 170 MW W.H. Weatherspoon coal-fired power plant this fall, several years ahead of the originally announced retirement schedule.

The company plans to retire the 62-year-old plant after it operates during the summer’s period of high electricity demand. The utility had previously announced plans to retire the plant by 2017 as part of a fleet-modernization effort that will result in the retirement of 30 percent of Progress Energy’s North Carolina-based coal-fired fleet. The accelerated retirement was included in a report to the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Progress said it decided to advance the retirement date after evaluating system resource needs, investments needed to comply with upcoming state and federal environmental regulations and the economics of continued operation. Part of the decision includes the fact that a new gas-fired combined-cycle power plant at the company’s Richmond County Energy Complex will add 600 MW to the utility’s system when it comes online in June.

The utility said the retirements of the utility’s other smaller, older coal-fired units in North Carolina are on track. The coal units at the H.F. Lee Plant near Goldsboro are scheduled to be replaced by a natural gas plant in 2013; the Cape Fear Plant near Moncure will be retired by the end of 2014; and the coal units at the L.V. Sutton Plant near Wilmington will be replaced by a natural gas plant in 2014.

Converting the coal-fired generation to power plants fueled by natural gas will result in additional emission reductions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and other pollutants.

In its annual N.C. Clean Smokestacks Act update, filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission, Progress Energy Carolinas reported that it has cut emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX) by 68 percent and sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 71 percent from 2002 levels at the company’s coal-fired power plants in North Carolina. In 2010, the company said it successfully met the state’s first reduction target for NOX and continued to meet the reduction target for SO2 emissions.

The utility said it has nearly completed all emissions-control technology projects related to complying with the Clean Smokestacks Act and expects to have invested a total of $1.05 billion.

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