Progress sticks with plan to shutter two coal-fired power plants

Source: Duke Energy 

Progress Energy Carolinas, a subsidiary of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), on Oct. 1 will officially retire two coal-fired power plants, including the utility's first coal-fueled facility built in 1923.

The utility will close the Cape Fear power plant, near Moncure, N.C., and the H.B. Robinson Unit 1 power plant, near Hartsville, S.C., as part of its ongoing fleet-modernization program.

Closing older, less-efficient coal plants and replacing them with state-of-the-art natural gas-fueled power plants helps ensure continued grid reliability, reduces air emissions and water usage, and offers new economic development opportunities.

The 316-megawatt (MW) Cape Fear plant, located in Chatham County on the Cape Fear River, has been a vital part of meeting the needs of Progress Energy Carolinas' customers since 1923. 

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A total of six coal-fired units were located at the site, the last two completed in 1956 and 1958. At that time, the Cape Fear plant was the largest power plant on the utility's system.

Two of Cape Fear's six coal-fired units were retired in 1977 and two in 2011. The last two units will close Oct. 1. Along with the coal units, one of four oil-fueled combustion-turbine (CT) units on the site is also being retired Oct. 1. The remaining three CT units will remain open, though their operation will generally be limited to periods of high electricity demand.

Meanwhile, the 177-MW H.B. Robinson Unit 1 power plant near Hartsville, S.C., in Darlington County, is Progress Energy Carolinas' only coal-fired power plant in South Carolina. It has been a key part of meeting the needs of the utility's customers since it began commercial operation in 1960.

The Robinson coal unit retirement does not affect the 724-MW Robinson nuclear power plant on the same site, which is licensed for operation through July 2030. Nor does it affect Progress Energy Carolinas' other major power plant in South Carolina—the 790-MW Darlington County Plant, which is located in the same county as the Robinson plant and includes 13 combustion-turbine units fueled by natural gas and oil.

Progress Energy Carolinas has been working to minimize employee impacts resulting from its power plant retirements. All employees at Cape Fear and Robinson Unit 1 electing to stay with the company have been able to do so through the company's redeployment efforts.

Of the normal combined complement of 113 employees at these two power plants, 79 have been placed in other positions in the company, 27 are retiring through the company's voluntary severance program associated with Progress Energy's merger with Duke Energy, and seven left the company prior to the merger.

In addition to Cape Fear and Robinson Unit 1, Progress Energy Carolinas retired its coal-fired W.H. Weatherspoon power plant near Lumberton, N.C., in 2011, and the H.F. Lee power plant near Goldsboro, N.C., in September. Progress Energy Carolinas will close another coal-fired power plant, the L.V. Sutton Plant near Wilmington, N.C., in late 2013.

Once the retirements are complete, Progress Energy Carolinas will have retired all of its coal-fired power plants that do not have advanced environmental controls. This represents more than 1,600 MW, or approximately one-third of its coal-generating fleet.

In addition to retiring older, small coal plants, the utility's fleet-modernization strategy also includes building new natural gas-fueled combined-cycle units.

A new, 920-MW natural gas-fueled combined-cycle power plant is under construction at the H.F. Lee power plant site near Goldsboro, N.C. That project, including a gas pipeline extension, is expected to begin commercial operation in January 2013.

The company is also building a 625-MW gas-fired power plant at its Sutton site. Commercial operation, including a gas pipeline extension, is expected by the end of 2013.

The utility also added 614 MW of natural gas-fueled generation at its Sherwood H. Smith Jr. Energy Complex near Hamlet, N.C., in 2011.

Progress Energy Carolinas' plan to replace a third of its coal-fueled generating capacity with natural gas-fueled combined-cycle facilities will yield significant environmental benefits.

Natural gas plants generally emit up to 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal-fired power plants, up to 95 percent less nitrogen oxide and virtually no sulfur dioxide or mercury.

In addition, the new power plants will use less water than the current coal-fired units, and eliminate the production of coal ash and its byproducts.

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