By Stan Welch
The Duke Energy Carolinas utility corporation has begun the permitting process required to completely upgrade and retool the Lee Steam Plant to a state of the art facility that will produce energy through natural gas fired turbines, instead of the coal fired turbines currently in use.
While the sources who spoke with The Journal stressed that the proposed upgrade had not been approved yet, and that a North Carolina location was still under consideration, the permit application has been filed with the South Carolina Public Service Commission. That application indicates that the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation would be a minority owner of 100 megawatts of the 750 megawatt capacity at the new facility.
If the Lee Steam Plant location is selected, the massive retooling and renovation project could result in well over a half billion dollars capital investment, and generate up to five hundred jobs at the peak of construction. The ripple effects on the local economies would be substantial.
Construction could begin shortly after the regulatory approvals are received. Energy production could begin as early as June of 2017.
The plant would be converted to a combined cycle facility. The fuel used to produce the steam will be natural gas, which would have a major positive impact on air quality, as compared to coal. The natural gas would be burned in the combustion turbines to produce mechanical power that is in turn converted to electrical power by the plant’s generators.
For increased efficiency, the hot exhaust gases from the combustion turbines are used to generate additional power through a steam turbine generator as well.
South Carolina state president for Duke Energy Clark Gillespy said, “This project balances affordable, reliable and increasingly clean energy, which meets our customers needs, both now and into the foreseeable future.”
He also indicated that this project, once completed, would contribute to Duke Energy’s efforts to maintain a diverse mix of generation facilities, including nuclear, coal, gas and hydroelectric generating capacity. Duke Energy currently produces 20,000 megawatts of energy for 2.4 million customers throughout a 24,000 square mile service area.