Suwannee power plant adapts with the times

Suwannee power plant adapts with the times

What’s new at Florida plant? Solar power to start generating by year’s end

The times they are a-changin’, and that applies to long-serving power plants too.

Over the decades, Duke Energy’s Suwannee River Power Plant has adapted to serve the needs of Florida customers, generating power by burning fuel oil and natural gas. And by the end the year, it will harness the sun.

The steam plant near Live Oak, Fla., about 80 miles west of Jacksonville, retired in December 2016 after operating for 63 years. When it came online, Suwannee was the largest plant on Duke Energy’s Florida system with 129 megawatts.

It operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but as larger power plants came online, the plant ran seasonally, in the hot summer and on the occasional cold winter days. Crews would start up the three units as many as 500 times a year to provide additional energy when it was needed. In the last few years, the steam units provided extra power to the energy grid until major transmission projects were completed.

Modernization efforts and the retirement of older fossil fuel plants like Suwannee are common across the United States.

At the Bartow Plant in St. Petersburg, Fla., three oil-fired units were retired in 2009 and replaced with a 1,120-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas unit. And in 2013, the two original oil-fired units at the Anclote Plant in Holiday, Fla., were converted to natural gas, providing 1,013 megawatts of cleaner energy.

Two coal-fired units at Crystal River Energy Complex will retire in 2018 when the Citrus combined-cycle natural gas plant in Citrus County, Fla., comes online. The new plant will supply 1,640 megawatts of energy to help serve Florida’s 1.8 million customers.

At Suwannee, three peaking combustion turbine units built in 1980 help keep the AC on during Florida’s sweltering summers. Just down the road, Duke Energy is improving transmission and distribution infrastructure to ensure grid stability for the company’s 35-county service territory.

And on 70 acres next to the site, crews are building a solar facility, the third project in Duke Energy’s plan to bring more universal solar energy to Florida. The 8.8-megawatt solar plant will start generating enough energy to power about 1,700 homes by the end of the year, continuing to adapt with the times.

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