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Two coal-fired plants in Virginia are now in the process of converting over to natural gas-powered units.

The Clinch River Power Plant near Carbo, VA, is more than 50 years old and was on the road to retirement before Appalachian Power officials decided to make the move to convert two of its three generating units to natural gas. The company retired the third unit.

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Appalachian Power asked state regulators in Virginia and West Virginia for approval last spring, and it gained approval, said Jeff LaFleur, vice president of generating assets for the company.

“The gas pipeline contract has been awarded, and we’ve started procurement and final engineering of converting two of those units to natural gas,” he said.

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He said the two units will burn coal throughout the summer. Then, in the fall of 2015, one unit will go offline to begin the conversion process. The other unit will start the process in early 2016.

“By spring of 2016, we’ll have two natural gas units,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have any holdups for that schedule.”

That also means when those units convert, the company will have no more coal-burning power plants in Virginia, as other coal units owned by Appalachian Power are on the path to retirement by the end of this year. Aging plants and Environmental Protection Agency regulations contributed to the retirements, Appalachian Power officials said when they made the decision.

The conversion should cost $56 million and bring a few hundred temporary jobs to the area.

The conversion will also mean some layoffs, since not as many people need to run a gas plant compared to a coal facility, LaFleur said. The new plant will keep a staff of about 30-40 people, down from about 100 who work there now.

He said people had options to retire early and to bid on a move to another Appalachian Power plant elsewhere. Quite a few workers went to the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in St. Paul, VA, run by Dominion, LaFleur said.

“We will have fewer people, but don’t think it will be a shock to the community,” LaFleur said. “We’re working hard to manage that process.”

“Folks at Clinch River have done an excellent job,” LaFleur said. “Their safety and environmental record is excellent. I can’t say enough about the people at that plant.”

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