Residents hear more about new Lee Natural Gas Combined Cycle project

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By Stan Welch

More than fifty Williamston area residents attended a gathering at the Municipal Center hosted by Duke Energy to answer questions about the two pending projects at the Lee Steam Plant. The focus of the evening was Duke’s plans to decommission all coal burning power transmission units.

The replacement of two defunct coal fired generators with combined cycle generation, along with the upgrading of the current coal burning unit three, will end all use of coal at the plant.

The original Lee Steam plant was opened in 1951. It was officially retired as the last coal fed plant in SC on Nov. 4, 2014. Unit 3 at the facility will be upgraded to a single cycle gas turbine and will continue to generate electricity.

Site preparations are currently underway for construction of the new W. S. Lee Natural Gas Combined Cycle Facility. The new plant is almost identical to the recently completed Buck plant in North Carolina.

The combined cycle technology uses natural gas, and is extremely efficient, using more than twice as much of the fuel expended in the older single cycle turbine.

The new units will be housed in a completely new facility which will be constructed on what is now a wooded area, closer to the road, on the 600 acre tract surrounding the original plant.

The process of reusing the fuel to generate twice as much power also serves to cool the waste products. There will be no direct discharge of heated water into the Saluda River, thereby reducing possible ill effects on the river. In addition, emissions into the air are greatly reduced by the use of newer technology, as well as other state of the art environmental controls.

Construction is expected to begin in June and it will take approximately three years to complete.

Major efforts are being undertaken to maintain noise levels no higher than they are currently. A buffer of vegetation will be retained as well.

More than five hundred construction workers will be employed during construction, with a probable peak of activity between June and October of 2016. The new facility will begin operations in late 2017.

The new plant facility will be a 750-megawatt natural gas-fired combined cycle plant and will employ 40 fulltime, well paying jobs.

While the construction phase of the new combined cycle facility was the centerpiece of Tuesday night’s presentation, a complementary project to remove millions of tons of coal ash produced as a by product over the last six decades was also featured.

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Project Director Todd Shuping (left) talks with a resident as other Duke representatives explained preparations for construction of the new W. S. Lee Natural Gas Combined Cycle Facility.

Erin Culbert, a spokeperson for Duke who was on hand, along with a dozen or more representatives to answer questions and explain various aspects of the projects, explained that the company is exploring the various routes to be used in removing the coal ash.

The ash from two areas, the inactive ash basin and the ash fill area, which contain approximately forty four per cent of the ash on site, will be excavated; and the ash will be hauled to a lined landfill in Georgia. Waste Management, Inc. which operates that landfill, will transport the ash.

Culbert reported that Waste Management has been and will continue to seek truck drivers for the project. The drivers will receive intensive specific training in how to haul such materials.

The remaining ash will also be placed in a lined landfill, but Culbert explained that a full lined subtitle D landfill may be constructed on the Lee site, to avoid transport to another site. “We are still looking at a number of factors involved in the final decision. But regardless of where and how it is removed, coal ash will no longer be a by product of the generation process at Lee Steam Plant.”

The ash issue will be addressed in another community open house event planned for May 7 in Williamston.

While most people on hand seemed eager to see the plant modernized and cleaned up, along with the substantial economic benefits of the project, some complaints were heard. One woman whose family has a recreational pond adjacent to the Lee site, says that recent cutting of the right of way at the plant has destroyed a buffer line of trees and destroyed the privacy of the pond.

Ryan Mosier, Corporate Communications Director for Duke in South Carolina, said that becoming aware of and addressing such concerns is one of the purposes of meetings like the one held Monday.

“We are very serious about addressing concerns like this and we will contact this person, and see what we can do to resolve this issue. Duke’s reputation as a good neighbor is well established, and it is our intention to be a good neighbor in the Williamston area.”

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