Thursday, February 29, 2024

Duke Energy announces Sutton Plant’s switch to natural gas power

Duke Energy's Sutton Plant, viewed from downriver.
Duke Energy’s Sutton Plant, viewed from downriver. The two smaller smokestacks are part of the plant’s new natural gas facility. The two tall stacks, used for the plant’s since-retired coal facility, will be taken down as part of a decommissioning. File photo by Jonathan Spiers.

Duke Energy’s Sutton Plant is now serving customers with natural-gas-produced power, marking what the company calls a “significant milestone” in the plant’s ongoing transition from coal-fired power.

Now starts the process of decommissioning the plant’s coal-related facilities, including dismantling the two tall smokestacks that dominate the landscape across the river from Wilmington.

That process will take years, and there’s no set timeline for taking the smokestacks down or addressing related issues such as the plant’s coal ash ponds, which environmental groups have called on the company to clean up.

While timelines aren’t yet set, the company is committed to accomplishing both, a spokeswoman said at the Sutton site today.

Acknowledging the significance of the smokestacks’ removal, Duke spokeswoman Catherine Butler said: “That really will be what the community sees and the big difference, especially after 59 years of the coal plant operating in this area.”

The new natural-gas facility at Duke's Sutton Plant. Photo courtesy Duke Energy.
The new natural-gas facility at Duke’s Sutton Plant. Photo courtesy Duke Energy.

The new plant, valued at approximately $600 million, replaces the existing coal-fired plant, described in a press release as a three-unit, 575-megawatt plant that the company recently retired.

The switch represents “a significant milestone in the company’s ongoing commitment to generate electricity in cleaner, more efficient ways,” the release states, adding that the plant’s state-of-the-art technology and air quality controls would reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 99 percent, nitrogen oxides by 97 percent, and carbon dioxide by 41 percent, compared to the coal plant’s operations in 2007.

The release includes comments from Sutton’s plant manager, Allen Clare, who is quoted as saying: “We continue to transform our power plant fleet while maintaining our focus on generating electricity that is both reliable and affordable.

“Our new natural gas plant is another stride forward in meeting customer needs using highly efficient, increasingly clean energy sources,” he said.

The release notes Duke has invested $9 billion in the last 10 years to build several advanced natural gas and coal plants in North Carolina and Indiana. Those plants will allow the company to retire nearly 6,800 megawatts of older coal and large oil-fired units—nearly 6,300 megawatts of which is coal. That amount represents 25 percent of Duke’s “coal fleet,” the release adds.

“By the end of 2013, Duke Energy will have retired more than 3,800 MW of that 6,300 MW, including the Sutton coal plant,” it says.

Duke took over Sutton operations after a recent merger with previous operator Progress Energy. The company notes the first coal unit at Sutton began operating in 1954, while two additional units were added in 1955 and 1972.

Related story and video: Environmentalists target Sutton Plant smokestacks, coal ash disposal in riverboat tour

Jonathan Spiers is a reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or On Twitter: @jrspiers

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