Nevada is shaping up as the battle ground for a decision on the future of electric generation in the United States. But it’s not nuclear power and Yucca Mountain being debated this time. Instead Nevada is at the center of the debate over coal-fired power plants, which provide about half the nation’s electricity.
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Three new plants are proposed for the Silver State, and environmental groups say their effects would be deadly to both the environment and to human health. They also say the tide is turning against coal, as evidenced by the 59 coal plant plans canceled, abandoned, or put on hold last year - despite a resurgence in coal plant proposals earlier this decade. They also point to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s outspoken opposition to new coal plants as an advantage.
But utilities and power plant developers say coal will be necessary to keep neon lights bright and air conditioners whirring in rapidly-growing Las Vegas as well as other parts of the desert Southwest. They say coal is an important part of their plan to provide cheap, reliable power.
Environmentalists, on the other hand, say new demands for power can be met with renewable energy, including Nevada’s rich solar and geothermal resources, and with energy conservation. They also question whether coal will really provide low-cost power, as the price tags for new plants rise and Congress debates potentially costly carbon caps and taxes.
Meanwhile, proposals for the three plants in Nevada march on. Two 1,500 megawatt plants are proposed outside Ely, in White Pine County, and another 750 megawatt plant is proposed near Mesquite in Clark County. The plants all face several regulatory hurdles – including approval by Nevada’s Environmental Protection Division and the federal Bureau of Land Management – before construction on a new generation of coal power can begin.
Together, they could power about 2.8 million average single-family homes and would produce more than 30 million tons per year of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.