09/16/12 — Progress Energy closes coal-fired plant in county

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Progress Energy closes coal-fired plant in county

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 16, 2012 1:50 AM

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The coal-fired H.F. Lee plant west of Goldsboro was closed as Progress Energy Carolinas moved to natural gas to generate power.

The coal-fired H.F. Lee plant, which has provided electrical power for more than 60 years, closed Saturday.

Progress Energy Carolinas, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, retired the plant as part of its modernization efforts, which included closing all of its coal-fired units that do not have advanced environmental controls.

The utility is replacing the retiring coal-fueled generating capacity with combined-cycle plants fueled by natural gas.

Located on the Neuse River just west of Goldsboro, the plant began operation in 1951.

The three Lee Plant coal units were built in 1951, 1952 and 1962. In 2000, the company added 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.

A fifth combustion turbine was added later. Those units are used primarily as peaking plants, to meet increased demand for electricity on the hottest and coldest days of the year.

The site's four oil-fueled combustion turbine units will be retired Oct. 1.

In June, work was completed on an $85 million 38-mile stretch of 20-inch natural gas transmission pipeline and additional compression facilities that will service the new $900 million natural gas-fired power plant being built adjacent to the old site.

The new 920-megawatt plant is expected to begin commercial operation early next year. The coal-fired units will be retired before the new plant comes on line, Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes said. It makes sense economically to close the units now since the peak summer demand is over, he said.

No power will be produced at the plant over the next three and a half months when the new units go online. However, peaking units at the site will remain online and available if needed, he said.

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 when the project is completed. Total generation capacity of the site will approach 1,800 megawatts.

Company officials say they has been working to minimize the effect on employees from the company's modernization efforts. Of the 79 employees at the old plant, 65 were selected for positions within the new Lee Plant, or have been placed in similar positions within the company. Another four are retiring with the company's severance programs associated with the merger with Duke Energy.

"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.

"This new facility is an important investment in the future of our customers and communities. I am proud of our continued commitment to Wayne County and to spurring economic growth in the communities we serve."

The old plant will be dismantled including the smokestacks that have been part of the county for more than half a century.

The coal ash pond at the current site will be capped. The company is working with the state to develop a decommissioning plan for the ash pond.