Duke to Shut NC Coal Plant, Build Gas Plant

Thursday, May 21, 2015 @ 07:05 PM gHale

The 51-year-old coal-fired plant at Lake Julian, NC, will close but a new natural gas facility will go up near the existing plant to meet a growing demand for electricity, said Duke Energy Progress officials.

If granted state approval, the natural gas facility could be online by 2020. The coal facility currently is able to produce 376 megawatts of power. The new plant could generate 650 megawatts.

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Solar arrays also would be added to the site and would sit over land that houses the coal ash ponds once those areas are properly remediated, Duke officials said.

The solar capacity will end up determined when officials can calculate how much flat land is available.

The project carries an estimated $1.1 billion cost, with $750 million going toward the new plant and solar arrays and $320 million to a transmission substation and related infrastructure in Spartanburg County, SC.

A new 40-mile transmission line would connect the natural gas plant to that substation, converting high-voltage energy to low-voltage energy.

The company will not be asking for economic incentives or tax breaks, said Lloyd Yates, Duke Energy executive vice president of market solutions and president of the Carolinas region.

“In my more than 30 years in the industry, what I can tell you is this is an exciting and very unique project that combines customer input with a number of special opportunities to create a project that is a win-win for consumers, the environment and the economy,” Yates said.

Plans for the new facility must first win approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission, and Duke officials expect to submit the proposal for the project sometime near the end of 2015 or a few months into 2016.

If regulatory approval goes smoothly, groundbreaking for the natural gas plant should be in 2017, beginning 30 months of construction that would add about 800 jobs to the region as the facility goes up.

About 90 people work at the Lake Julian facility. About 50 people would work at the natural gas plant on a permanent basis.

Plans call for the new plant to have a smaller footprint than the coal facility, and cooling towers would minimize temperature impacts on Lake Julian, Duke officials said.

Before the decision to convert to natural gas, Duke officials has been considering adding 126 megawatts of power to meet the region’s growing energy needs with diesel-powered fast-start peaking units. Those units, in combination with environmental upgrades to handle coal ash, would have cost $100 million.

The switch to natural gas partly ties into the Canton paper mill in Haywood County, which the Environmental Protection Agency ordered it to convert its power source from coal to natural gas.

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