As another sign that natural gas continues to be favored over coal as the go-to fuel for power generation, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) on Thursday gave Duke Energy Carolinas the necessary regulatory approval to build two combined-cycle, gas-fired generating units, while shutting down some older coal-fired units.

Regulators approved the company’s request to add two 620 MW combined-cycle, gas-fired units at two existing facilities — Buck Steam Station in Rowan County and Dan River Steam Station in Rockingham County.

The company said it will be ready to begin construction at the Buck facility once it receives the necessary air permit from North Carolina. Construction at Dan River would follow. The new Buck unit would be in operation as early as summer 2010. The plan includes retiring two older, less efficient coal units at each facility.

Duke Energy Carolinas said both projects employ state-of-the art environmental control technology to minimize emissions. These controls, in combination with the retirement of older coal-fired units at both facilities, would result in a net reduction of emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide at the sites.

The company noted that the projects will use cooling towers to minimize the impact on the Yadkin and Dan Rivers. The use of cooling towers would also minimize potential generation curtailments during drought conditions. The new gas-fired units are the first combined-cycle units on the Duke Energy Carolinas system.

Duke Energy Carolinas’ operations include nuclear, coal-fired, natural gas and hydroelectric generation. The company provides 21,000 MW of electricity to more than 2.3 million customers in a 24,000-square-mile service area of North Carolina and South Carolina.

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