10/08/09 — Progress Energy project gets first state OK

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Progress Energy project gets first state OK

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 8, 2009 1:46 PM

Progress Energy's plans for a $900 million natural gas-fueled power plant in Wayne County have been approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission.

"This is a major milestone moving this project forward, and we are very excited about it," said Mike Hughes, director of media relations and PEC Communications for Progress Energy.

Progress Energy plans to shut down the three coal-fired power plant units at its H.F. Lee Plant on the Neuse River just west of Cherry Hospital when the state-of-the-art natural gas-fueled facility opens in 2013.

The commission approved a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the proposed 950-megawatt combined-cycle power plant in a streamlined review process that was authorized by legislation approved by the N.C. General Assembly in July. The company announced its plans for the new plant in August.

The project is expected to take 24 months to complete and some site preparation could begin in late 2010 to early 2011, Hughes said.

The company is still awaiting word on approval of its air permit.

"That is factored into the schedule," Hughes said. "We expect to have it in hand before construction begins."

The commission's approval does include some conditions, but none that affect the project locally, Hughes said.

The plant being replaced generates 397 megawatts compared to the 950 megawatts that will be generated by the new plant. As such, the commission was interested in knowing if Progress Energy plans to shutter any other less-efficient plants to offset that increase in power.

It is too early to determine if that will happen, Hughes said. He said it will require the evaluation of the long-term viability of coal-fired plants.

A number of plants have been environmentally retrofitted, he said. However, Hughes said that it comes down to a question of whether it is wiser to invest in the older plants or to make the switch to new technologies.

The new plant will reduce overall emissions, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury. The additional generating capacity might be used to meet the demands of a growing customer service area, to meet evolving environmental requirements and to provide for additional resource flexibility.

The ash pond at the site where ash leftover from the process is stored will remain active during the project. However, once coal is no longer used at the facility, no additional ash will go into the pond. However, the company will continue to manage and maintain the pond.

The new plant is "very positive" news for Wayne County, Hughes said. It could create up to 500 construction jobs over the 24-month building process.

An additional benefit is that the project will mean a new natural gas line will be built in the county.

"That is a big deal for economic development," he said.

Hughes said the company is working with the nearly 70 employees at the plant to ensure that "as many as possible will have jobs" once the new plant is completed. That includes training that would allow the employees to work elsewhere in the company, he said.

"We have a three-year transition so that will help ease it," he said.

Also included in the project will be construction of new electric transmission facilities and the enhancement of existing ones at the site to move the power where it is needed.

The three Lee Plant coal units were built in 1951, 1952 and 1962. They are located 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.

Progress Energy headquartered in Raleigh is a Fortune 500 energy company with more than 22,000 megawatts of generation capacity and $9 billion in annual revenues. Progress Energy includes two major electric utilities that serve approximately 3.1 million customers in the Carolinas and Florida.