Bowing to environmental pressure, South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. will shut down six coal-fired generating units, including all three at a plant near Walterboro, by the end of 2018, the Cayce-based affiliate of Scana Corp. announced Wednesday.
The utility will close the first of three units at the Canadys Plant in Colleton County by the end of the year.
Two other units will be switched from coal to natural gas by 2015 before being closed completely by the end of 2017. The Canadys power plant came online in 1962 and produces about 385 megawatts of power.
It employs 85 people, and six workers will be affected by the first unit shutdown this year, according to SCE&G spokesman Robert Yanity. The rest will be displaced by 2017.
SCE&G also will switch Unit 3 at its Urquhart Plant near Aiken from natural gas by the end of this year, and close the unit by 2018. Two other previously coal-fired units already have been switched and will remain in operation, Yanity said.
The company also will transform the two coal-fired units at its McMeekin Plant near Irmo to natural-gas-fired units by 2015 and close the site completely by the end of 2018.
In all, about 170 workers will be displaced by the shutdowns, SCE&G said.
The units at all three plants range in age from 45 to 57 years old and are SCE&G’s oldest and smallest coal-fired operations.
The Southern Environmental Law Center lauded SCE&G’s decision, one that it and other environmental groups have sought for some time.
“We applaud SCE&G for its decision to phase out its oldest, dirtiest coal units,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney for the environmental group. “This is the right decision for ratepayers and the environment. We hope that SCE&G will continue on a path toward modernizing its generating fleet by embracing clean, low-cost energy resources like energy efficiency and renewable energy that reduce risk for the utility and its customers.”
The plant switchovers will not require major amounts of money, since the plants are designed to run on natural gas, Yanity said.
“They will just require minor tweaks,” he said.
The plants can’t be shut down without the switchovers because SCE&G needs to maintain power production with natural gas as a bridge to meet environmental regulations before its two new, 1,117-megawatt nuclear units come online, Yanity added.
They are being built with state-owned utility Santee Cooper north of Columbia and are set to become operational in 2017 and 2018.
SCE&G said the Environmental Protection Agency in recent years has issued a series of increasingly stringent regulations targeting coal-fired electric generating plants.
Since 2008, SCE&G has installed more than $600 million in environmental equipment at its largest coal-fired power plants, significantly reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury.
The company determined that adding costly environmental control equipment to these older plants to ensure compliance with the new regulations would not at this time be a good business decision.
“Since announcing our new nuclear project in 2008, 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, SCANA chairman and CEO.
“With the planned retirement of these coal units and the addition of our two new nuclear units, we anticipate that by the end of 2018 roughly one-third of our electric generation will be fueled by nuclear power, one-third by natural gas, and one-third by scrubbed coal-fired plants,” Marsh said.
“These changes will help us meet the increasingly stringent environmental regulations facing our industry and should position SCE&G to be a leader in non-emitting generation well into the future,” he added.
SCE&G employs about 170 people at the three affected plants. The company said it will help employees look for other positions within the company.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warren lancewise.