Lee Steam upgrades cleaner, greener

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By Stan Welch

Potential environmental threats posed by coal ash retention ponds at several Duke Energy generation facilities, including the Lee Steam Plant, have been in the news lately. But Duke officials have confirmed to The Journal that the planned $600 million upgrade of the Lee plant will address those issues.

Ryan Mosier, Duke’s Director of Corporate Communication for South Carolina, offered such assurances in a telephone interview earlier this week. A study issued by the EA in 2010 indicated that the two earthen dams at the site posed a potential problem because their failure could lead to a major spill of toxic coal ash into the Saluda River.

The study found evidence of some seepage from the ponds, but the threat assessment was based more on the potential damage of a spill than on the actual likelihood of such a spill in the imminent future. “The study pointed out what we basically already knew, and had been working with state officials to address” said Mosier.

Mosier went on to say that the project is currently awaiting approval from the Public Service Commission. A decision on the proposed project is expected sometime next month. “Once we get that ruling, we are prepared to move forward, with our plan,” said Mosier.

That plan calls for the retiring and replacement of the two oldest coal fired generators at Lee Steam Station by April of 2015, and the conversion of the third and newer unit to natural gas. The three natural gas fired units will be capable of producing 750 kilowatts of power; and will be much cleaner and greener in terms of the effects on the environment. Coal will no longer be used at the Lee site.

The plan involves the installation of approximately $100 million in pollution control equipment, according to information presented to the Anderson County Council at a recent meeting. Mosier pointed out that to begin such a project and not plan to address existing issues on the site would make no sense. “The ash ponds will and must be addressed, but to be clear, those ponds will have no impact on the Commission’s decision about the project.”

The project is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $600 million and create as many as five hundred construction jobs at the peak of construction.