L.V. Sutton Plant: The generation has changed, but not the dedication

L.V. Sutton Plant: The generation has changed, but not the dedication

A planned, controlled blast took down some of the final remnants of Duke Energy’s old Sutton power plant in Wilmington, N.C., April 10, but memories linger of the facility that soldiered through some of the worst hurricanes on the East Coast.

In more than 60 years of operation, Sutton’s reliability and its employees’ dedication haven’t changed.

Originally built on the heels of Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Sutton’s 575-megawatt coal-fired generators were retired in November 2013 when a new, gas-fired 625-megawatt combined-cycle unit began operation.

Talking with workers who lived through some of the worst storms at the plant over the years, you get a picture of their dedication to the surrounding community.

Jeff Taylor, a control room operator, describes the events at the plant during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. “It was raining so hard, I remember stepping out of my pickup truck and into six inches of water.”

The storm knocked out power to more than 500,000 customers in eastern North Carolina.

Kent Tyndall, an Environmental, Health and Safety leader, remembers the storm too.

“At one point, one of the 480-volt motors was slinging water everywhere,” he recalls. Several of the motors and pumps ran continuously underwater throughout the storm and afterwards had to be sent off for repairs.”

Taylor also described the aftermath of Fran, another bad Carolinas storm that hit in 1996.

Not only did the team keep the plant running throughout the brutal weather, but workers came off long hours of working at the plant and then volunteered to help restore power lines.

Tyndall recalled how it was a “funny feeling” to come to work, make power all day and then go home and not have any electricity.

The Sutton Plant is named after Louis V. Sutton, one of the longest-running CEOs of the company when it was known as Carolina Power & Light. Sutton served as chief for 30 years (1933 – 1963) and left a lasting legacy at the plant and across the company. 

Sutton built his reputation on putting customer service first, as evidenced when he lowered rates during the Depression to help struggling families.

The Sutton facility is one of several Duke Energy plants that have either been closed or updated as the company modernizes its power plants.

Duke has been steadily and methodically dismantling outdated plants for years. Since 2011, the company has “retired,” or closed, 10 coal-fired plants.

Duke is not alone in demolishing outdated power plants. It’s a scene being played out across the country.

One major reason for closing coal plants is tighter regulations on emissions. Cost is another factor. With natural gas prices so low, it’s more economical in many cases to make electricity using gas rather than coal.

“By shifting from coal, the company was able to reduce emissions, allowing us to meet more stringent environmental regulations,” a Duke Energy spokesman said. “Plus, these new plants vastly improve performance and megawatt output over the older coal-fired units, and, of course, there’s also the benefit of lower fuel cost for our customers.”

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