Duke Energy retiring two coal plants early - | WBTV Charlotte

Duke Energy retiring two coal plants early, Greenpeace responds


Duke Energy's Buck and Riverbend steam stations, coal-fired power plants in the Charlotte area, will retire two years earlier than scheduled, drawing to a close more than eight decades of operations at each facility.

Both stations had been slated for retirement in April 2015 in advance of upcoming federal environmental regulations; however, the company elected to retire Buck Units 5 and 6 and Riverbend Units 4 through 7 on April 1, 2013.

The units have been operating infrequently in recent years and in the future would have operated even less with the recent completion of new, more efficient plants and low natural gas prices.

The success of the merged company's joint dispatch process that utilizes generation across both Duke Energy Carolinas and Progress Energy Carolinas fleets to more efficiently meet customer needs also contributed to these early retirements.

Duke Energy's joint dispatch process enables the company to more efficiently deploy its generation fleet, which in turn produces savings for customers and progress toward meeting the company's $687 million merger-related savings commitment.

"The investments we and our customers have made in the last 10 years allow us to retire older stations like these and continue transitioning to cleaner sources of electricity," said Keith Trent, executive vice president and chief operating officer -Regulated Utilities. "These stations played pivotal roles in the 1920s and 1930s in helping to electrify the industries and homes of the Carolinas, and we honor all those employees who contributed their time and talents over the years to ensure safe, reliable operations."

Buck Steam Station in Rowan County entered commercial operation in 1926 and was Duke Power's first large-scale power plant.

Its original two units retired in 1979, and units 3 and 4 retired in May 2011. Units 5 and 6, 128 megawatts (MW) each, began operating in 1953. Three smaller natural gas combustion turbines at the site retired in October 2012. 

The natural gas Buck Combined Cycle Station, 620 MW, began commercial operation in November 2011. A photo of the retiring plant is available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeenergy/8430015489/in/photostream.

Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County began operating in 1929, and units 1 and 2 retired in 1979. Unit 3 retired in 1976. Units 4 and 5, 94 MW each, began operating in 1952, and units 6 and 7, 133 MW each, began operating in 1954. Four smaller natural gas combustion turbines at the site retired in October 2012. A photo is available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeenergy/4587281090/in/photostream.

A total of 65 employees work at these plants. Duke Energy will make every effort to assist them in finding opportunities within the company that match their skills and interests, and will provide a severance for other affected employees.

These retirements are part of Duke Energy's strategy to modernize its power plants, which includes retiring as much as 6,800 MW of older coal and large oil-fired units. By the end of 2013, Duke Energy will have retired more than 3,800 MW of this capacity.

In addition to building new plants, the company has invested $7.5 billion for upgrades at other locations to enhance air quality controls since 1999. These investments have reduced the regulated fleet's emissions of sulfur dioxide by 74 percent and nitrogen oxides by 57 percent since 2005.

In response to Duke Energy's announcement of the early retirement of the Buck and Riverbend coal-fired power plants, Greenpeace Charlotte organizer Monica Embrey said the following:

"Greenpeace applauds Duke Energy's decision to shut down the Buck and Riverbend coal-fired power plants. These two coal plants have been polluting North Carolina for over 80 years and their early retirement is evidence that coal is too ancient a technology to generate North Carolina's power. Duke must commit to careful remediation of the two sites, including coal ash, to protect nearby communities from toxic exposure.

The closures makes it clear that Duke wants to move towards cleaner electricity, and the company should follow today's announcement with similar ones for the rest of its remaining 12 coal-fired power plants in the Carolinas, some of which are still over 60 years old. Duke has the ability - and a duty to its ratepayers - to transition to modern, renewable forms of electricity in line with regional and national trends away from coal power.

Energy savings realized from Duke's merger with Progress Energy and investments to streamline their operations via joint dispatch give Duke an opportunity to move away from fossil fuels and invest in North Carolina's future with renewable energy. To start down that clean energy pathway, Duke must do more than close its oldest coal plants: Duke must move as quickly as possible to phase out all of its fossil fuel and nuclear plants, and deploy distributed, clean energy throughout the state, creating jobs and saving money in the process.

The announcement comes in advance of Duke's expected request for more rate hikes, which are anticipated to be used to pay for investments in gas and coal-fired power plants. As several independent studies have shown, Duke ratepayers can save billions over the next twenty years if Duke moves instead toward robust deployment of wind and solar energy."

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