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NC electric utilities stick with U.S. Chamber despite industry defections

Several major power companies have cancelled their membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the business group's position on global warming, but North Carolina's electric utilities are not planning to sever their relationship with the organization.
Raleigh-based Progress Energy and Charlotte-based Duke Energy say they have long, productive relationships with the national chamber.
In recent weeks, power companies that have quit the chamber include Excelon, one of the country's biggest electric utilities, as well as Pacific Gas & Electric in California. They quit over the chamber's resistance to climate change legislation that would impose additional costs on some businesses.

Progress Energy wants feds to change "poor" safety ratings of coal ash pits

Progress Energy will seek to persuade federal regulators to erase the "poor" safety ratings of the company's coal-ash pits in the state. The Raleigh-based electric utility has notified federal regulators that it will conduct recommended safety analyses even though the company disagrees with the inspectors' safety findings.

Progress is the only power company in the nation whose ash pits have received "poor" ratings from the Environmental Protection Agency this year. The EPA has reviewed 43 ash pits, giving five "poor" ratings to Progress pits in Chatham County and one "poor" rating near Asheville.
The pits, which store massive amounts of ash from coal-burning power plants, came under public scrutiny last year after an accidental spill in Tennessee released 5 million cubic yards of ash and water and flooded more than 300 acres. Inspector reports said that the Progress pits lie within 5 miles of schools, hospitals, nursing homes, the Blue Ridge Parkway and other high risk-sites that lie in their downhill path.

Feds launch special inspection of Brunswick nuclear malfunction

Federal regulators have launched a special inspection of a malfunction that forced a shutdown last week of two nuclear reactors at Progress Energy's Brunswick power plant near Wilmington.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that three inspectors will spend at least a week at the Brunswick site assessing the causes that disabled a backup emergency diesel generator. The inspection team will also review safety procedures at the plant.

NRC safety rules require that each nuclear reactor be backed up by two emergency diesel generators as sources of power to run emergency equipment in the event of a blackout. The agency's rules permit a nuclear power plant with two reactors to operate with three diesel generators for as long as a week, but Raleigh-based Progress was forced to shut down both Brunswick generators Sept. 20 after one of its generators was inoperable for an entire week.

A special inspection is the lowest level of safety inspection; it's conducted for an unusual event and typically requires specialized expertise beyond the knowledge of on-site NRC inspectors at the plant. The NRC began the special inspection Friday and will issue a report within 45 days of completing the inspection.

Progress Energy shuts down Brunswick nuclear plant

Progress Energy was forced to shut down its two reactors the Brunswick Nuclear plant near Wilmington on Sunday after an emergency backup generator failed to start.
Federal nuclear regulators require that each nuclear power plant have two diesel generators for each nuclear reactor at the site. The generators are used to create electricity to run emergency equipment in the event if the plant lacks power.
A nuclear plant with two reactors is allowed to operate with just three generators for up to one week.
The Raleigh-based power company was repairing one of the generators at the Brunswick plant and had hoped to have it fixed by Sunday, when the week-long grace period ran out. But the generator failed to start, forcing a shutdown.

Progress Energy proposes CFL bulb discount

Progress Energy wants to offer customers a price break on CFL bulbs.

The Raleigh-based electric utility is asking state regulators to approve a program that would allow Progress customers to buy the energy-efficient bulbs at a $1.50 discount, on average.

The discount would cut the customers's cost of a CFL bulb by as much as 50 percent over the cost of an incandescent bulb.

Under the proposal, customers would pay the discount prices at select hardware stores and other retail centers, and Progress would reimburse the manufacturers and retailers. According to the company's filing with the N.C. Utilities Commission, it expects that the discount would result in 12.4 percent of light sockets in the company's service area using CFL bulbs by 2011.

5-acre solar farm is public showcase

A solar energy farm in Person County, which officially opened today near Roxboro, will be one of the state's most publicly visible renewable energy facilities.

Progress Energy is buying the electricity generated by the 5-acre facility, enough to power about 60 homes, as part of a 20-year contract. The solar power plant began generating electricity eight days ago.

The 650-kilowatt facility, operated by Carolina Solar Energy of Durham, is not the state's largest. Progress Energy has signed a contract for a facility in Laurinburg that will be nearly four times bigger.

But the complex of angled photovoltaic panels at the Person County Business and Industrial Center is visible to passersby on Route 501. And this week, Carolina Solar Energy will launch a public web site that will provide real-time readouts showing how much energy the solar farm is generating, how much power it has generated to date, and how much carbon dioxide it's reducing by offsetting power from Progress Energy's coal-burning power plants.

Progress Energy to close three coal plants

Progress Energy plans to shut down three coal-fired power plants in Wayne County, southeast of Raleigh, and build a natural gas-fueled plant at the site.

The $900 million project would increase the amount of electricity produced at the site while reducing pollution, the Raleigh-based utility announced today.

The proposal requires approval by the N.C. Utilities Commission. But last month state lawmakers passed a bill that will give Progress a streamlined certification process.

Progress Energy seeks further rate cut

A small bright spot for strapped consumers: Progress Energy plans a bigger rate reduction than originally proposed to account for declining fuel costs.

The Raleigh utility in June announced plans to cut rates about 10 cents a month for the average household starting Dec. 1. But after gathering additional cost information, Progress today filed to reduce rates an additional 24 cents a month.

The net savings, if approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission, would be $4.08 a year. The average monthly bill would drop to $106.44, down from $106.78 now.

Electric utilities are allowed to pass along the cost of coal and other fuel, and adjust them annually. Fuel costs have surged in the past five years, but have fallen recently as recession weakens global demand.

Progress Energy applies for $200 million grant to develop Smart Grid

Progress Energy said this morning it is applying for $200 million in federal stimulus funds to help pay for the company's development of Smart Grid technology in the Carolinas and in Florida.

The U.S. Department of Energy is planning to award $4.5 billion in Smart Grid grants as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. A Smart Grid is an electric transmission and distribution system that provides real-time data to the power company and customers on the customer's energy use and on the cost of power generation at any given instant.

"It will allow our customers ultimately to have more direct control of their energy use and their bill through pricing signals and pre-pay options," said CEO Bill Johnson. "The end result will be improved system efficiencies, energy conservation and a cleaner environment."

Progress Energy signs biggest solar energy deal to date

Progress Energy today announced its sixth and biggest solar energy contract to date, a solar farm to be built in Laurinburg, about 100 miles southwest of Raleigh.

The solar farm will generate 2.3 megawatts of electricity, about twice as much power as the biggest solar farm that currently supplies power to Progress Energy and is located near Wilmington.

The Laurinburg project will be built by private developers and will sell power to Progress for 20 years. It's expected to start generating power within six months.

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