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Economy / Business

Duke to Build Natural Gas Plant in Citrus County

Duke Engery

Continuing a series of major changes, Duke Energy Florida on Tuesday said it plans to build a $1.5 billion natural-gas power plant in Citrus County while also shutting down two old coal-fired generating units.

Duke, the state's second-largest electric utility, indicated last year that it was likely to move forward with such a plan. But the announcement comes after other high-profile changes that have included shuttering a damaged Crystal River nuclear plant and scrapping plans to build two nuclear reactors in Levy County.

The new 1,640-megawatt plant would be built on 400 acres of land adjacent to the company's Crystal River complex and would start producing electricity in 2018. The two coal-fired units, which also are at Crystal River, are expected to be shut down that same year.

Utilities in Florida and other states have increasingly shifted to cleaner-burning natural gas in recent years while moving away from coal plants. Duke said the new plant would be served by a proposed natural-gas pipeline that is expected to stretch from Alabama to Central Florida. That pipeline, known as the Sabal Trail project, is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp. and NextEra Energy, Inc., the parent company of Florida Power & Light.

"We are making these investments to continue providing our customers with the most cost-effective energy solutions and highest level of reliability with limited environmental impact," Alex Glenn, Duke's state president in Florida, said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

The plan is subject to approval from the Florida Public Service Commission, and Duke said it expects to file a formal proposal May 27.

Also part of the filings will be proposed changes at Duke facilities in Suwannee County and Polk County. At Suwannee County, Duke will propose a $197 million project to build two new generators to help meet electricity needs at times of peak demand. The project, with a total generation of 320 megawatts, would replace three 1950s-era plants.

Meanwhile, at Duke's Himes Energy Complex near Bartow, the utility would undertake a $160 million upgrade project that would expand the generating capacity of the plant.

The potential for adding the new Crystal River natural-gas plant and shutting down the old coal-fired units was part of a wide-ranging settlement reached last year by the utility and representatives of consumers and business groups. That settlement, which was approved by the Public Service Commission, drew heavy attention because it also dealt with scuttling plans for the Levy County nuclear project.

Earlier last year, Duke decided to permanently shut down the damaged Crystal River nuclear plant, which had not generated power since 2009. The damage involved cracks in a containment building and touched off a complicated debate about whether the utility and its predecessor, Progress Energy Florida, should close the plant or try to fix it.

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