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October 31, 2014

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NV Energy proposes closures at Reid Gardner in shift from coal to cleaner energy

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STEVE MARCUS / LAS VEGAS SUN file

Nellis Air Force Base hosts one of the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic systems. The Nellis array provides enough electricity to power thousands of homes.

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The coal-fired Reid Gardner Generating Station near Moapa is shown April 5, 2007. The spots near the smokestacks are "ghost" reflections of the lights on the plant, which can occur in digital cameras while shooting a point light source.

After a year of waiting, NV Energy announced a $600 million plan to replace four coal-fired power plants with cleaner energy sources.

NV Energy plans to replace 800 megawatts of coal-generated electricity with an array of natural gas and solar energy facilities.

The utility company is requesting approval to begin permitting up to 4,000 acres of land north of Las Vegas for solar development while developing both the 200-megawatt Moapa Solar Project and the 15-megawatt Nellis Air Force Base Solar Array II. It is also bidding for three solar plants that would each produce 100 megawatts.

It will attain the 274-megawatt natural gas-fired Las Vegas Cogeneration units and the 222-megawatt Sun-Peak Generating Facility.

The decision comes a year after the Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 123, legislation that directed NV Energy to develop a plan to significantly reduce emissions. The result was the utility company choosing to close three units of the coal-fired Reid Gardner Generating Station near Moapa, northeast of Las Vegas, by the end of 2014 and its final unit by the end of 2017. It also ordered the utility company to divest its interest in the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona.

It comes on the eve of an Environmental Protection Agency ruling scheduled for next month that will outline new regulations for existing power plants.

NV Energy’s framework, titled the Emissions Reduction and Capacity Replacement Plan, was anticipating the uncertainty of operating coal, said NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht.

Democrat lawmakers and environmental activists are applauding NV Energy’s proposal.

“Las Vegas was recently ranked as one of America’s most polluted cities, and this announcement is a positive step forward to change that,” Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said in a statement.

For green-energy activists and members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the decision has been a long time in the making. The Reid Gardner plant on the tribe’s reservation has been a point of contention for years. Many members claim the plant’s emissions are the cause of preventable diseases.

“I am so proud for the Moapa Band of Paiutes, who for nearly 50 years, have had pollution literally raining on them from the Reid Gardner plant,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

For the past several years, the Sierra Club has worked with the Moapa Band of Paiutes, who live adjacent to the Reid Gardner coal plant, to advocate for its closure and cleanup, according to a press release from the nonprofit advocacy group. Tribal members and the Sierra Club attribute the power plant to cases of asthma, lung disease, heart disease and others that may be related to the plant’s toxic coal ash dust.

“By closing Reid Gardner, choosing to build more renewable energy and buying existing gas plants instead of building new ones, the company’s plan will reduce harmful smog and limit climate-disrupting carbon pollution,” said Barbara Boyle, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign representative, in a media release.

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