Progress Energy Carolinas said on Tuesday that it would permanently shut down three coal-fired power plants near Goldsboro and seek state regulatory approval to build a new natural gas–fueled facility at the site. The decision will ensure compliance with North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks Act, which establishes more stringent emission-reduction targets in 2013, the company said.

The company has filed for a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the North Carolina Utilities Commission under legislation signed into law in July. The petition seeks approval to build a 950-MW combined-cycle natural gas plant that will replace three existing coal units—397 MW of coal-fired generation—at the H.F. Lee Plant in Wayne County. The project represents a total investment of about $900 million and is expected to be in service in early 2013.

Legislation passed by the North Carolina General Assembly facilitates a technology switch of this sort, establishing a streamlined certificate process (45 days versus the standard process, which takes six months or more). The process will enable Progress Energy to shut down the coal units and replace them with natural gas–fueled technology—rather than investing “hundreds of millions of dollars” in flue gas desulfurization technology, or scrubbers, on older, less-efficient coal units, the company said. The shorter certification period was needed to enable the company to replace the coal-fired plants by 2013, when the stricter statewide emission targets come into effect.

“In addition to an estimated 60 percent reduction in the facility’s carbon dioxide emission rate, the new units will decrease the facility’s emission rates for mercury by 100 percent, sulfur-dioxides by nearly 100 percent and nitrogen oxides by more than 95 percent,” it said.

"Coal-fueled power will continue to be vital to our ability to meet customer needs reliably and affordably in future years," Lloyd Yates, president and CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas, said. "We have already invested more than $1.3 billion in clean-air equipment at our largest units, and we have reduced emissions dramatically. Our objective is to maintain the right balance of resources—nuclear, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric, solar, biomass and energy efficiency—to make our company and state more energy independent and to minimize the risk of customer price spikes due to volatility in cost or supply of any single fuel source."

The three Lee Plant coal units were built in 1951, 1952, and 1962 on the Neuse River, west of Goldsboro. In 2000, the company built four combustion turbine units (fueled interchangeably by natural gas or oil) at a site adjacent to the Lee Plant, called the Wayne County Energy Complex. Earlier this year, a fifth combustion turbine was added at Wayne County. Those units are used primarily as peaking plants, to meet increased demand for electricity on the hottest and coldest days of the year.

In another Progress Energy development, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and his cabinet, serving as the siting board, last week unanimously approved Progress Energy’s site certification application (SCA) to build two nuclear plants in Levy County, Fla. The vote is the second of three major approvals needed before the company can begin building the plant.

The SCA includes a detailed analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the proposed plant and related transmission lines. In July 2008, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the “needs case” for the plant. The last remaining major decision is from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is expected by early 2012.

If approved and built, the project would be among the first nuclear plants in the country to be constructed on a greenfield site in more than 30 years, and it would involve development of one of the single largest transmission infrastructure projects in Florida’s history.
Progress Energy filed the SCA with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in June 2008. After review by the DEP and a series of public hearings, an administrative law judge supported approval in spring 2009.

Progress Energy Florida owns about 5,100 acres in southern Levy County for the potential construction of two reactors. Earlier this year, the company signed a contract with Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC and The Shaw Group Inc.’s Power Group for the engineering, procurement, and construction of two 1,105-MW AP1000 reactors. It delayed the plant’s construction schedule from the original in-service date of 2016 by a minimum of 20 months, however.

“The new project timeline depends on negotiations currently under way with the engineering, procurement and construction vendors,” the company said in a press release last week, stressing that it fully intends to pursue the project.

Next month, the PSC is expected to consider how much Progress will be allowed to charge customers next year in upfront costs before it builds two new nuclear reactors. The total project is now estimated to cost a stunning $17 billion.

Source: Progress Energy