Pillars of steam that look like smoke will be seen billowing above the county’s Progress Energy complex later this week as the plant moves closer to opening its new combined cycle turbines.
It is located on Airport Road outside Hamlet, and plant administrators want those who live in the area to know that the pillars are steam from demineralized water being boiled to clean piping before they connect it to the plant’s new combustion units.
There will also be a low-frequency rumble as the generators fire up, though the steam will pass through a silencer before entering the atmosphere.
“There will be a little bit of noise and some pillars of harmless water vapor in the sky, and if you’re not used to seeing it you might think something’s wrong,” Progress Energy Carolinas Corporate Communications Director Drew Elliot said.
Last week, Plant Manager Cecil Gurganus explained the purpose of the “steam blow.”
“Low pressure steam blows are a method of cleaning microscopic scaling on pipes prior to connecting and admitting into the actual steam turbine generator,” he explained. “The new combustion units will produce the steam utilized for the process, and it will exit through a silencer.”
He likened the process to a large-scale teapot on a stove, and warned residents the steam will be visible from a distance. The original timeline of the $2 billion facility scheduled these tests for early 2011, and up and running by June. Gurganus said it looks like the utility is going to meet those self-imposed deadlines.
The company is adding two combined cycle combustion turbines estimated to be worth about $600 million.
When completed, the utility will have a $2 billion investment in Richmond County, and the new units burn natural gas with jet turbines and waste heat is trapped and used to fire a secondary generator.
The Richmond County site will be the second largest in the Progress Energy Carolinas region in terms of generating capacity. The largest is the Brunswick site which features two nuclear-powered units.
“We expect the start-up to last about six to 10 days,” Progress Energy Startup Manager Ervin Patterson said.
Last month, Gurganus explained the turbines had their “first fire,” during which they burned fuel for the first time and went through their simple cycle. At that time, he stressed the company’s commitment to keep its neighbors informed of progress at the plant, and what to expect from its operations.
"We're committed to keeping our neighbors informed, and letting people in the area know what's happening at the plant," Gurganus said. "We are well on schedule, and all the work here at the plant has been done safely. Our neighbors may see a little steam rising from the area, but this is the first actual operation of the unit. It's something we're very proud of."
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 15, or by e-mail at email@example.com.