Progress to shut small North Carolina coal plant

Tue Sep 27, 2011 3:21pm EDT

A coal worker in the Crandall Canyon Mine, northwest of Huntington, Utah, August 8, 2007. REUTERS/Rick Bowmer

A coal worker in the Crandall Canyon Mine, northwest of Huntington, Utah, August 8, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Bowmer

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(Reuters) - North Carolina-based Progress Energy said Tuesday it planned to shut the 172-megawatt Weatherspoon coal-fired plant in North Carolina on October 1.

Weatherspoon is one of dozens of old, small coal power plants in the United States expected to shut over the next several years because it costs less to replace the coal units than upgrade emissions equipment needed to meet increasingly more stringent state and federal environmental rules.

The three units at Weatherspoon in Robeson County entered service between 1949 and 1952.

In 2009, Progress said it would modernize its fleet by the end of 2017 to comply with nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions reductions mandated by North Carolina's Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002.

To modernize the fleet, Progress planned to build a few natural gas plants, upgrade emissions controls at some of its larger coal plants and retire a few of its older, small coal plants, including Weatherspoon.

In addition to Weatherspoon, Progress said it plans to shut the 600-MW Sutton, 397-MW Lee and 316-MW Cape Fear coal plants by the end of 2013. One megawatt powers about 1,000 homes.

Progress expects a new 625-MW combined-cycle plant at Sutton to enter service at the end of 2013 and a new 920-MW combined-cycle plant at Lee to enter service in January 2013.

Progress is not building any new units at Cape Fear or Weatherspoon, which will continue to have oil and gas-fired peaking plants at their sites.

To help replace the Weatherspoon plant, Progress added a new 600-MW combined-cycle gas unit at the Richmond County plant that entered service over the summer. Last week, Progress renamed the Richmond County plant, which is located near the Weatherspoon plant in south central North Carolina, as the Sherwood H Smith Jr Energy Complex.

Prior to the construction of the new natural gas plants, which cost about $2 billion to build, and the retirement of the old coal units, about half of Progress' generation came from coal and half from nuclear.

With the new gas units and coal retirements, Progress said about a third of its fleet would be gas, a third coal and a third nuclear.

PROGRESS READY

The North Carolina environmental rules prepared Progress for the proposed federal environmental regulations that some energy experts say could shut between 30,000 and 70,000 MW of coal-fired generation in the United States.

Progress spokesman Scott Sutton said all of the coal plants in North Carolina that will continue to run will already have the emissions controls needed to meet proposed federal rules.

Outside of North Carolina, however, Progress may have some work to do on its coal fleet.

In Florida, Progress has four coal fired units at the Crystal River plant. Two smaller units, 1 (375-MW) and 2 (494-MW) were built in the 1960s. The bigger units 4 (722-MW) and 5 (720-MW) were built in the 1980s. Units 4 and 5 already have emissions control equipment.

Progress plans to shut Crystal River 1 and 2 when its proposed Levy nuclear plant, which is close to Crystal River, enters service.

Progress spokesman Sutton said it was too soon to say whether federal regulatory timelines would force the company to retire Crystal River 1 and 2 before Levy enters service.

The two reactors at Levy were originally supposed to enter service in 2016-2018 but Progress pushed back the Levy timeline by a minimum of 20 months after federal nuclear regulators denied the company's request to begin excavation work at the site before getting a federal license to build the plant.

Progress meanwhile is evaluating how the federal rules will affect the 174-MW Unit 1 at the Robinson plant in South Carolina, which entered service in 1960.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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