Progress Energy Carolinas coal plants to fall with the autumn leaves

Progress Energy Carolinas, a subsidiary of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), said Sept. 14 that it will officially close the coal-fired H.F. Lee power plant near Goldsboro, N.C., on Sept. 15.

This is the second retirement under the utility’s fleet-modernization program. That program will help ensure continued grid reliability, reduce the long-term price impact on customers, reduce air emissions and water usage, and offer new economic development opportunities, the utility said.

The Lee plant began commercial operation in 1951. A second coal-fired unit was added the following year and a third unit was added in the 1960s that brought the plant’s total coal generating capacity to 382 MW. The site’s four oil-fueled combustion turbine units, with a total capacity of 75 MW, will be retired Oct. 1, 2012.

“For 61 years, the Lee Plant has served the region with safe, reliable and affordable electricity,” said Jeff Lyash, executive vice president of energy supply for Duke Energy. “During these years, hundreds of current and former employees have been closely tied to Wayne County and the region, and the plant’s long, productive life has been a testament to their outstanding dedication.”

In addition to retiring older, small coal plants, the utility’s fleet-modernization strategy also includes building new natural gas-fueled combined-cycle units on property between the Lee plant and the Wayne County Energy Complex. This new, 920-MW natural gas-fueled combined-cycle facility and corresponding natural gas pipeline extension is expected to begin commercial operation in early 2013. This state-of-the-art facility, along with the five dual-fueled combustion turbines at the existing Wayne County Energy Complex, will be called the H.F. Lee Energy Complex. Total generation capacity of the site will approach 1,800 MW.

PEC retired its coal-fired W.H. Weatherspoon plant near Lumberton, N.C., on Oct. 1, 2011, which was the first retirement under the fleet-modernization plan. Other plants slated for retirement include the Cape Fear plant near Moncure, N.C. (on Oct. 1, 2012), the Robinson coal-fired unit near Hartsville, S.C. (on Oct. 1, 2012) and the L.V. Sutton plant near Wilmington, N.C. (late 2013). Once the retirements are complete, the utility will have retired all of its coal-fired units that do not have advanced environmental controls. The utility’s coal retirements represent more than 1,600 MW, or about one-third of its coal-fired fleet.

The utility will replace the retiring coal capacity with combined-cycle plants fueled by natural gas. In addition to the new Lee facility, the utility is building a 625-MW facility at its Sutton site. Commercial operation, including a corresponding natural gas pipeline extension, is expected at the end of 2013. The utility also added 584 MW of natural gas-fueled generation at its Sherwood H. Smith Jr. Energy Complex near Hamlet, N.C., in June 2011.

Parent Progress Energy merged recently with Duke Energy, which also has power plants in the Carolinas, and the merged company’s joint-dispatch process is enhancing its fleet-modernization strategy by using generation across both the Duke Energy Carolinas and Progress Energy Carolinas systems to more efficiently meet customer needs, PEC said.

PEC had announced July 27 that it would accelerate the retirement of one North Carolina coal-fired power plant previously slated for closing in 2013, and will retire the utility’s only coal-fired unit in South Carolina. The company said Cape Fear and the 177-MW H.B. Robinson Unit 1, located near Hartsville, S.C., will be retired Oct. 1. Both remained online through the summer to help meet heightened electricity demand.

Cape Fear is the utility’s first coal-fired facility and was scheduled to retire June 2013 as part of the company’s fleet-modernization plan, announced in 2009. The Robinson coal plant in South Carolina began operation in 1960 and is located on the same site as the 724-MW Robinson nuclear plant. The decision to take the 52-year-old Robinson coal plant offline was made due to pending changes in environmental regulations and other rising costs for smaller, older technology plants. The cost of adding emission controls on this small unit would be hundreds of millions of dollars. And the potential for additional emission regulations in the future would increase operating costs even further, the utility noted.

Other factors leading to the decision to retire Cape Fear and Robinson Unit 1 in October 2012 include the anticipated early 2013 commercial operation of new natural gas-fired generation at the H.F. Lee plant near Goldsboro, N.C., continued low natural-gas prices and the success of the newly-merged company’s joint-dispatch process.

Progress Energy Carolinas provides electricity and related services to nearly 1.5 million customers in North Carolina and South Carolina. The company is headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., and maintains a diverse generation fleet of more than 12,200 MW in owned capacity.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.