Friday, Aug. 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
CARSON CITY — NV Energy has won a round in its battle to keep the coal-burning Reid Gardner power plant open, but environmentalists say the fight is far from over.
The plant is generating dangerous air pollution, says Launce Rake of the Clean Air Defense Campaign in Las Vegas. The utility "can adopt an environmental plan that benefits both the customer and the people down wind."
Despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's call to close the plant, the EPA Wednesday approved a state plan that controls the haze emissions from the plant's smokestacks. The plan says nitrogen oxide emissions would be reduced to meet the federal standards if the utility installed control devices.
Sierra Club officials say their efforts are to reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions, which are dangerous to the health of thousands in the area. The nitrogen oxide is another issue, they say.
NV Energy needs to adopt a clean energy policy, switching to solar, wind and geothermal and away from coal, says Refugio Mata, a spokesman for the Sierra Club. "We're going to keep up the fight," he said, but added he knew it would be an uphill battle.
He did not rule out additional court litigation.
Mata produced a study by Wingra Engineering of Madison, Wis. that said the actual emission at Reid Gardner "is estimated to create a downwind sulfur dioxide concentrate that exceeds the national ambient air quality standards."
Rake says, "Even with the pollution controls, there is no clean coal. It's expensive and it is imported and we don't need it and we don't want it."
Rob Stillwell of NV Energy says Reid Gardner meets all the state and federal standards for sulfur dioxide. The scrubbers installed to reduce pollution emissions are comparable to ones in new plants. And they are so efficient that they meet the mercury and air toxic standards that won't be effective until future years.
NV Energy spokesman Mark Severts said Reid Gardner is among the top 10 percent of plants in the nation in controlling sulfur emissions. NV Energy says 16.7 percent of its energy was generated from renewable resources compared with the government requirement of 15 percent.
NV Energy wants to keep the coal-burning plant into the 2020s. The Sierra Club suggests it be shut down next year and believes that would save customers $59 million over the next 20 years.
On the other hand, the suggested efficiency and conservation measures would lead to less revenue and result in requests for increased rates, says NV Energy.
The battleground shifts to the state Public Utilities Commission that is considering plans by NV Energy to meet its energy needs without building any power plants in the near future.
The commission has set Oct. 11 for a session for consumers in Las Vegas to make their complaints or suggestions not only about NV Energy but about all utilities in Southern Nevada. There will be sessions at 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., at 9075 W. Diablo Drive near Russell Road and the Las Vegas Beltway.
In its preliminary arguments to the PUC, the Sierra Club says the utility could buy cheaper natural gas for generation instead of coal. And it could adopt more efficient and conservation programs to offset the loss of power from a shutdown of Reid Gardner.
It says that NV Energy conservation programs represent 0.81 percent of its sales and that the goal should be 2 percent. Sierra Club referred to a report by the Green Energy Economics Group that said "investments in energy efficiency in lieu of further spending at Reid Gardner would, by itself, be expected to create savings of about $50 million."
The utility responded that the analysis by the Sierra Club was flawed. It said the two reports "fall well short of utility quality planning analysis."