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Progress Energy to switch out coal for natural gas at one plant

Progress Energy is shutting down three coal-fired units in Goldsboro, in eastern North Carolina, and seeking regulatory permission to build a natural gas plant in their place. WFAE's Simone Orendain has more: Progress Energy says the time was coming due to upgrade an older coal-fired power plant in Wilmington, when the company decided to turn one of its coal-generated plants in Goldsboro into a natural-gas fired operation. Progress spokesman Mike Hughes says state law measures emissions by utility not by site. Plus, he says adding emission scrubbers to the Wilmington plant would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Meaning, it would be cheaper to convert an old coal plant into a natural-gas plant. The company is in a hurry to meet the state's Clean Smokestacks Act, which imposes stricter emissions controls starting in 2013. Hughes wouldn't say whether the company plans to convert more units but he says it's an option. "Now we are evaluating the economics of moving forward with either replacement of generation or scrubbing some of the other, older and less-efficient units," he explains. A brand new state law will allow Progress to make the switch within a relatively quick turnaround time. The permitting process has been cut down to 45-days as opposed to the usual six months to a year. Hughes says the natural-gas plant will be installed as work on a new gas pipeline to feed it, gets underway. He says it should be up and running in 2013. It's expected to have half the workforce of the 70 employees currently at the coal-fired plant.