Upgrades, new plant planned for Lee Steam site

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During their meeting Tuesday night, Anderson County Council approved major economic and infrastructure incentives realated to Duke Energy’s intentions to upgrade the Lee Steam Station near Williamston. The company is considering plans to build and run a natural-gas-fired plant at the site which will include a $600 million investment.

Anderson Council officials are still calling the project by the code name “Project Mystery Green,” though published reports have identified it as the Lee Steam Station project.

If the company proceeds, the new plant would take up to 18 months to build and add an estimated 500 construction jobs. The plant will employ 25 people making an average of $30 per hour a Duke Energy spokesperson said.

According to reports, the company has not made the final decision on whether to build the new natural gas plant but could make a final decision this spring. Duke Energy has stated plans to retire two of its coal-burning generators at Lee Steam by 2015 and convert a third one to natural gas.

Reports published in The Journal several weeks ago that the utility corporation had 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, have been confirmed.

The permit application was filed with the South Carolina Public Service Commission several months ago. 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. Approval of that application has not been finalized yet; but Duke Energy has chosen the Lee plant site and is moving the process along in the areas that it can.

Just recently, Duke Energy chose the Anderson County location over two competing facilities in North Carolina. The massive retooling and renovation project could result in well over a half billion dollars capital investment, and generate up to five hundred construction jobs at the peak of construction.

Sources familiar with the project’s scope calculate that the capital investment could eventually approach a billion dollars. 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. The upgrades would allow the plant to produce twice the energy it did at its peak service to the local textile and manufac6uring industries.

South Carolina state president for Duke Energy Clark Gillespie 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.