Thursday, December 3, 2009

Natural Gas Power Plants in North Carolina

By Cleantechnica - Cleantechnica

By Tina Casey

The trickle has turned into a torrent: following close on the news that a Michigan utility has converted a power plant from coal to sustainable biomass, Progress Energy Carolinas just announced that within the next seven years it plans to retire 11 coal-burning power units at four sites.

Progress Energy Carolinas is a subsidiary of Progress Energy, which is far from giving all of its fossil fuel operations the old heave-ho. However, the move is still significant and Progress is no small potatoes. It's a Fortune 500 company with more than 3 million customers in three states, and the eleven units represent a huge chunk (about 1/3) of its coal-fired power generation fleet in North Carolina. With friends like these, coal doesn't need any enemies.

The 11 coal-fired units that are set to shut down do not have "scrubbers" that desulfurize flue-gas. Among other reasons for the move, Progress Energy determined that a sulfur control retrofit was not worth the expense. That's the good news. The so-so news is that the coal-fired megawatts (a total of 1500 MW) will be replaced with new natural gas-fired units.

Compared to burning coal, the use of natural gas will result in a significant reduction in emissions such as carbon dioxide, mercury, and sulfur dioxide, but natural gas is still a nonrenewable fossil fuel. Now, back to the good news: two of the sites, Cape Fear and Weatherspoon, have the potential to convert up to 150 MW to sustainable biomass instead of natural gas. Progress Energy isn't promising anything, but it is starting to dabble in wind power and other sustainable alternatives, so it would appear that the company is serious about biomass.

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