Citing low natural gas prices, Duke Energy announced on Feb. 1 that it would shutter its 1920s-built Buck and Riverbend stations two years before the coal-fired plants were slated for retirement. The company had chosen to retire the plants just before April 2015, which is the compliance deadline for recently enacted federal environmental rules.

Duke Energy will now retire Buck Units 5 and 6 (each 128 MW) and Riverbend Units 4 (94 MW) and 7 (133 MW), all in the Charlotte, N.C., area, on April 1, 2013. About 65 employees work at both plants.

"The units have been operating infrequently in recent years and in the future would have operated even less with the recent completion of new, more efficient plants and low natural gas prices," Duke Energy said in a statement.

The company said its recent merger with Progress Energy Carolinas had resulted in a successful joint dispatch process that enables it to use generation from both fleets to meet demand. “The investments we and our customers have made in the last 10 years allow us to retire older stations like these and continue transitioning to cleaner sources of electricity,” said Keith Trent, executive vice president and chief operating officer–Regulated Utilities. “These stations played pivotal roles in the 1920s and 1930s in helping to electrify the industries and homes of the Carolinas, and we honor all those employees who contributed their time and talents over the years to ensure safe, reliable operations.”

When the Buck Steam Station became operational in 1926, it was Duke Power’s first large-scale power plant. Its original two units retired in 1979, and Units 3 and 4 retired in May 2011. Units 5 and 6 began operating in 1953. Three smaller natural gas combustion turbines at the site retired in October 2012.

Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County began operating in 1929, and Units 1 and 2 retired in 1979. Unit 3 retired in 1976. Units 4 and 5 began operating in 1952, and Units 6 and 7 began operating in 1954. Four smaller natural gas combustion turbines at the site were also retired in October 2012.

Duke Energy’s modernization strategy includes plans to retire as much as 6,800 MW of older coal and large oil-fired units. By the end of this year, it will have retired about 3,800 MW of this capacity.

The company in November 2011 completed its 620-MW Buck Combined Cycle Station.

Sources: POWERnews, Duke Energy

Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)

This story was originally posted on Feb. 1