US-based Duke Energy has announced a $1.1bn plan to shut down its 376MW Asheville coal power plant in North Carolina and replace it with a natural gas based power plant.

The company plans to invest $750m to set up a 650MW natural gas-fired power facility at the site, which will be accompanied with installation of solar generation.

A further $320m has been planned for construction of a transmission substation near Campobello in South Carolina, which will be connected to the Asheville power plant with 230kV transmission line expanding nearly 40-mile.

Duke Energy also intends to upgrade and reconstruct additional electrical infrastructure, including transmission lines and distribution substations as a part of the initiative.

"Replacement of the facility is expected to be done in four to five years."

Replacement of the facility is expected to be done in four to five years, the company said.

The firm has taken up the initiative to improve system reliability and reduce environmental impacts and long-term costs of power for customers.

Duke Energy executive vice-president of market solutions and president of the Carolinas region Lloyd Yates said: "We’ve developed an innovative plan that’s a ‘win-win-win’ for consumers, the environment and the economy.

"With the availability and near record low cost of natural gas, this comprehensive project will transform the energy system in the region to meet the growing needs of our customers and significantly reduce emissions and water use.

"We’re eager to move ahead quickly on these projects and complete the key components of the plan by the end of 2019."

The upgrades have been planned to meet the growing energy demands of the region, which is expected to increase by nearly 15% over the following 10 years.

Duke Energy is presently coordinating with a local natural gas distribution company to upgrade the existing pipeline in order to have a reliable fuel supply for the new facility.

Last week, Duke Energy’s three subsidiaries pleaded guilty to nine criminal violations at its North Carolina power plants, under the Clean Water Act.

The company has agreed to pay a $68m fine and invest $34m on environmental remediation projects in North Carolina and Virginia.