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Theo Spencer’s Blog

The Other Dirty Coal Shoe Drops in Nevada

Theo Spencer

Posted March 9, 2009 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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People go to Nevada to win big, but sometimes they end up losing big. That's what just happened to the coal industry.

 

The first shoe dropped on February 9th, when NV Energy (the company formerly known as Sierra Pacific Resources) shelved plans to build a 1,500 megawatt coal-fired power plant -- the controversial Ely Energy Center.  As I noted at the time:

No coal-fired power plant in America has been more closely watched or harder fought than this one, thanks to Senator Harry Reid's early opposition to the project and the millions spent by the coal industry pushing dirty coal in Nevada. Nearly two years ago, Reid said he would do "everything I can" to stop construction of three major coal-fired power plants in his home state of Nevada, and push for more alternative energy development. That prompted coal industry execs to vow to 'Daschlize' Reid, meaning they would spend as much as needed to get him out of the Senate. Stakes were also high in Nevada because the Ad/Lobbying shop hired to run the industry's fraudulent $40 million national "clean coal" campaign, R&R Partners, is based in Las Vegas. 

 

The other dirty coal shoe dropped in Nevada on Thursday. 

 

The LS Power news release read like this: "LS Power affiliate White Pine Energy Associates, LLC, announced today that it is indefinitely postponing construction of the White Pine Energy Station near Ely, Nevada due to current economic conditions and increasing regulatory uncertainties."

 

For the second time in less than a month, a major power company has scrubbed plans for a coal-fired electric plant in Nevada.   As the Las Vegas Review Journal reported:

New York-based LS Power said Thursday it has indefinitely postponed construction of its 1,600-megawatt White Pine Energy Station near Ely because of poor economic conditions and 'increasing regulatory uncertainties.'  However, LS Power will forge ahead with its Southwest Intertie Project, a 500-mile transmission line stretching from southern Idaho to Las Vegas. Construction on the transmission line could begin as early as the summer, and when it's complete, it'll help move renewable energy generated in rural areas to the cities that need the power. LS Power's announcement ... comes just a few weeks after Southern Nevada's electric utility, NV Energy, temporarily shelved plans for a coal-fired power plant in Ely.

 

Interestingly, the LS Power announcement came on the same day that an op-ed article by Frankie Sue del Papa appeared in the Nevada Appeal in which the former Nevada Secretary of State was highly cirtical of the White Pine Energy Station (WPES): 

 

As Nevada's former attorney general I have serious concerns over the environmental impact of the WPES that the PUC should carefully consider.

The WPES is estimated to use about 5,000 of acre feet of water per year - 1.6 billion gallons - enough for a city of nearly 50,000 people. As the driest state in the U.S., Nevadans should be concerned if this is the best use of our precious water resources.

The WPES will emit over 13,000 tons of toxic air pollutants annually, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulates and more than 12 million tons of CO2.

Apart from the obvious impacts on residents and visitors, the plant also will significantly affect one of Nevada's crown jewels, Great Basin National Park, offering some of the cleanest air and darkest night skies in the lower 48 states. Having the vistas from Wheeler Peak degraded for the next 50 years and beyond because of a bad energy choice would be a real tragedy. The impact on White Pine County's air resources also could limit potential industrial and mining activity in the future.

An honest discussion of any coal-fired power plant should include coal waste. The WPES could generate 500,000 tons of coal waste annually, the majority remaining on site as a landfill - 50 million tons or more over the life of the plant. The recent tragedy in Tennessee in which the containment walls failed, dumping more than a billion gallons of toxic ash into surrounding waterways and private homes, is the latest warning.

 

The LS Power announcement also came on the same day that Nevada U.S. Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader who is no friend dirty coal, unveiled a new bill to speed development of a green-powered electricity system, an effort he said was a big part of his vision of a nation that might someday run on renewable energy.  "Reforming our energy policies to build a cleaner, greener, national transportation system -- an electric superhighway -- must be a top national priority," Reid said as he submitted the bill, called the Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act.

 

First Ely ... and now White Pine.  

 

Could it be that history will record the tide was finally turned on dirty coal-fired power plants in February and March 2009 in the state of Nevada.  It's certainly starting to look that way.

 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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