09/10/10 — Ground broken for $900 million power plant

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Ground broken for $900 million power plant

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 10, 2010 1:46 PM

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Officials broke ground on a $900 million Progress Energy natural gas-fired power plant west of Goldsboro. The area will be renamed the H.F. Lee Energy Complex. The occasion brought local, state and national dignitaries to Goldsboro Thursday morning for the event. The project is expected to create 500 construction jobs and be completed by early 2013.

Preliminary site work is expected to begin next month on a project that will pump almost a billion-dollar investment into Wayne County.

Local, state and national officials gathered Thursday morning at an overgrown field off Black Jack Church Road near the H.F. Lee Plant that within two years will be the home of Progress Energy's $900 million natural gas-fired power plant. The area will be renamed the H.F. Lee Energy Complex.

To supply the gas needed to feed the new plant, Piedmont Natural Gas will construct 38 miles of 20-inch pipeline along with additional compression facilities to provide natural gas delivery service to the plant by July, 2012.

The new Progress Energy plant is scheduled to come on line by early 2013.

The project also was hailed as an environmental victory since the plant will switch from coal to the cleaner-burning natural gas. The switch will cut carbon emissions nearly in half and almost completely eliminate mercury, nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide emissions, company officials said.

Also, instead of venting hot exhaust gas, the gases will be recaptured to create steam to turn turbines to create more energy out of the same amount of fuel.

Piedmont's investment in the pipeline and compression facilities is estimated at $85 million and is supported by a long-term service agreement with Progress Energy Carolinas.

Officials at the groundbreaking ceremony said Wayne County will gain more than just a modern power plant and its affect on the county's tax base and job market. The new, larger gas line will add another tool to the county's economic efforts.

They also praised Progress Energy for being a good corporate citizen and for its involvement in local economic development.

"I can tell you the governor is excited about what is happening here today," said Dale Carroll, a Wayne County native and state Department of Commerce deputy secretary. "This is a triple play -- a $900 million capital investment that will restore some much-needed tax base here in Wayne County. As some of the other speakers have already said, over a period of two years there will be 500 jobs associated with the construction of this facility. This capital investment and job creation could not come at a better time."

Progress Energy officials said that the company would work to help ensure local contractors are involved in the project.

"It is crucial as all of you know -- every job matters and every job counts," Carroll said. "But we also are seeing a conversion here that helps the environment. This company is going from coal to natural gas and in the process of doing that does it not only help the environment, the other part of the triple play we are here to acknowledge today is that it will put natural gas infrastructure, a more substantial pipeline infrastructure, into this part of North Carolina.

"Natural gas is needed in many cases for advanced manufacturing and the kinds of companies that will be attracted to this reliable energy source, not just the electricity that Progress Energy will provide, but the natural gas capacity for the community."

Wayne County Develop-ment Alliance President Joanna Helms agreed.

The 500 jobs will be "good-paying" ones that will last for several years, she said.

"That is going to provide income for families," she said. "It is going to increase retail spending and all of the other things that trickle down from those jobs."

Natural gas is a key component to almost every project the Development Alliance works on, she said.

"Piedmont Natural Gas improving their capacity in this area and to add a line, it is going to be huge because there are still parts of the county that don't have any natural gas in real close proximity," she said.

County Commission Chairman Jack Best recalled how as a child his father had brought him to the area near the plant and that they had walked across the railroad bridge.

"He said, 'Jack, this is a big deal,'" Best said.

Best said it is "unbelievable how wonderful a partner" Progress Energy has been to Wayne County.

"Without their tax base and all of the efforts they have put into economic development it would have been impossible for us to have grown like we have," Best said.

It is energy the county and state must have to cope with growth, said state Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir.

"When the census comes out next year our state will have grown by approximately two million people in the last 10 years," he said. "The projections ... say that in the next 10 years that we will grow by another two million people. That is going to give us another four million people. To put that perspective, that is the number of people who live in South Carolina.

"So we have got to have the energy. We have got to have the electricity, we have got to have the water, the sewer for these folks to come live here and have a job here. Progress Energy has been a leader in the state's infrastructure needs."

State Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, said he was impressed that Progress Energy was able and willing to embark on such a massive project despite the weak economy.

"The big thing that really impressed me with this project is that with everybody else pulling back, Progress Energy decided to move forward at a time when we needed jobs," he said.

Mike Hughes, director of media relations and PEC Communications for Progress Energy, said the company has a responsibility to plan for the future to meet growing demands.

"The growth expects power. We have to plan many years in advance," Hughes said.

Paula Sims, senior vice president corporate development and improvement PE Service Company LLC, called the investment a "big deal."

"A commitment for $900 million is not small change even for a Fortune 500 corporation," she said. "It is a big investment and commitment to this community because we expect this energy complex to be here a long time so it is great to see such strong community support."

Over the next 5-7 years the company's mix of generation sources will "be very different" and Progress Energy expects to close 30 percent of the coal-fired units, including those at the Lee facility, she said.

"We could have added the changes (to reduce emissions) to our older and smaller units here and keep them running for a long time," she said. "In the end we analyzed the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars at a 50-year-old facility and it made more sense for our customers, our company and our state to invest in newer, cleaner technology at the same site where we have existing infrastructure and an experienced workforce already in place.

"This is a very important project and Wayne County and Goldsboro are very important communities for Progress Energy. The Lee plant been here for over 50 years, we have the infrastructure and well-trained workforce and when we were faced with the decision of whether we should invest in environmental controls or build a new clean efficient gas plant it was a tough decision but the right one was to build a new combined cycle plant."