“Some of these plants are quite old,” said Bill Johnson, the chief executive of the company. But, he added, “They have a lot of useful life left in them, absent the need to put emissions control units on them.”
Mr. Johnson also said the company was taking a risk by reducing its output of carbon dioxide, which is not yet regulated, in the near term. He and others expect that Congress will eventually impose a limit on carbon dioxide emissions, possibly in the form of percentage reductions based on a baseline year. By closing the plants now, Progress is effectively cutting its baseline, meaning it may have to reduce emissions even further in the future.
“We need to do the right thing, regardless of that, and this is the right thing,” he said in a telephone interview. If there is a control system added later, he said, “we’d be making a strong argument, ‘Don’t penalize us for doing the right thing.’ ”
While the short-term substitute is natural gas, the long-term plan is a nuclear backbone for the company’s generating system, he said.
The plants being closed, at four sites, have a combined capacity of nearly 1,500 megawatts. Progress has spent more than $2 billion to put state-of-the-art controls on 2,500 megawatts of coal generation, the company said. And it has already announced plans for one new gas-fired plant and will soon announce additional plans, the company said. Progress is also planning to build two nuclear reactors in North Carolina and two more in Florida, but none will be in use by 2017.