South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. is shuttering or upgrading multiple coal-fired power plant units – including one in Beech Island – that have become increasingly expensive to operate because of stricter pollution control requirements.
In a filing Wednesday before the state’s Public Service Commission, the utility said its statewide plan includes converting Unit 3 at the Urquhart Steam Generating Plant from coal to natural gas by the end of the year and retiring that unit by 2018.
Urquhart, built in 1953, once burned up to 1,400 tons per day of coal, producing huge volumes of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides just four miles from downtown Augusta. Two of the boilers were converted to natural gas in 2001, eliminating most of the emissions.
The company’s new plan calls for converting the one remaining Urquhart unit to natural gas within the year and also retiring one unit at the utility’s Canadys Plant near Walterboro. The changes at those two sites will affect about 20 jobs this year.
In all, the company will retire up to six coal-fired units at three locations by 2018.
The changes are being made possible, in part, by the utility’s expectation of completing two new power reactors at its V.C. Summer Plant north of Columbia.
“We’ve said that the addition of the two new nuclear units would give us flexibility to look at reducing our reliance on coal and allow us to achieve better fuel diversity in our electric generation portfolio,” said Kevin Marsh, CEO of SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA Corp.
The new nuclear units are expected to go online in 2017 and 2018.
Coal-fired power plants, along with motor vehicle exhaust, are considered the primary causes of ozone-related air pollution, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to reduce through stricter emissions requirements and air quality standards.
The plan to reduce or eliminate emissions from the Urquhart plant follows the recent closure of another coal-fired power plant that once served Savannah River Site. It was closed after a new biomass generating plant at the site was completed earlier this year.