06/22/14 — Boilers imploded at plant in Goldsboro

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Boilers imploded at plant in Goldsboro

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on June 22, 2014 1:50 AM

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Duke Energy photo

The boilers at the former H.F. Lee plant are imploded Friday. The site will now be rehabilitated, company officials say.

Friday started with a bang when Duke Energy imploded the boilers at the H.F. Lee power plant facility on Old Smithfield Road, part of the utility's ongoing project to replace the coal-fired plant with a more modern system.

The coal-fire units at the plant were retired in the fall of 2012. A new $900 million 920-megawatt plant began commercial operation in early 2013 and uses a natural gas combined-cycle design, which is more efficient than the old coal-fired units.

It is being fed by a new $85 million 32-mile gas pipeline.

This marks the second implosion event at the site within six months -- the last one occurring in December.

Duke Energy now plans to begin the restoration process at the site, which consists of cleaning up the site, filling in and seeding the land to restore it to how it would look naturally. The company will retain ownership of the land after the process is complete in mid-2015.

"This demolition event is bittersweet, from a historical perspective," said Millie Chalk, Duke Energy's district manager. "It marks the end of a plant that has reliably served the region for more than 60 years, while also symbolizing a 'passing of the torch' to the new natural gas plant. From the environmental perspective, the transition is very positive."

The H.F Lee power plant began operations in 1951.

But the implosion does not bring an end to concerns regarding the old plant.

Contaminants from the coal ash pond at the site are seeping into the groundwater, according to data provided by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The coal ash basins at the site contain 4.9 million tons of ash, hold more than 645 million gallons and span 314 acres, according to figures provided by Duke Energy. Recent samples taken by the state from the monitoring wells surrounding the plant show spikes in arsenic, lead, iron, manganese and boron in the groundwater supply, while samples taken by Duke Energy only showed elevations of iron, manganese and boron.

Despite these readings, both Jeff Brooks, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, and Karen Brashear, public utilities director for the city of Goldsboro, said there has been no detection of contamination in the city's drinking water supply.

Although the facility has been demolished, Duke Energy must still figure out how to move forward with handling the coal ash ponds at the site.