Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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Water district eyes power firm deal

The Las Vegas Valley Water District is signaling a willingness to work with a power company planning to build an air-cooled plant near Apex northwest of Las Vegas by sharing some water rights.

Duke Energy North America is seeking up to 700 acre-feet of water to supply a proposed power plant. The water district's action would save the power company from applying separately for water rights from the state.

The water district board is expected on Tuesday to approve Duke's request, setting aside the ground water from a 1989 district application for 7,237 acre-feet to supply Southern Nevada customers.

However, the deal will not go through without the state engineer approving the water district's 12-year-old request for using the water in the Garnet Valley, 15 miles northeast of Las Vegas, J.C. Davis, spokesman for the water district, said.

State Engineer Hugh Ricci said on Friday that no hearings have been scheduled on the water district's request.

"We have an opportunity to set aside the water, and we don't have any plans for using the water there," Davis said.

In exchange for the Apex application, the water district would get permanent water rights in the Las Vegas Valley from Duke. The company would provide 1 acre-foot of permanent water rights in the Las Vegas Valley for every 4 acre-feet of temporary rights the state engineer approves near Apex.

The utility owns permanent rights on 175 acre-feet in the Las Vegas Valley. Only temporary rights are available in the Garnet Valley, which is a protected basin.

An acre-foot of water roughly supplies a family of five for a year.

Duke would have to use the Apex water for power generation under terms of the proposed agreement. Where Duke would sell its power is unanswered at this time, Davis said.

Duke is one of four power companies vying to build generating plants northeast of Las Vegas. Reliant Energy of Houston and Calpine Corp. of San Jose, Calif., also are working to construct new supplies of electricity for Las Vegas and to sell on the grid, but need new water rights to build.

The fourth company is PG&E, the holding company of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The dominant electric utility in Northern and central California is planning a natural gas-fired plant in the Moapa Valley operated by PG&E's National Energy Group, a nonregulated subsidiary separate from the utility.

PG&E officials say they've acquired the water rights to 8,000 to 9,000 acre-feet of water the plant needs annually from a farmer near the town of Moapa.

So far, Duke and Reliant are the only companies willing to consider building an air-cooled plant rather than the more traditional water-cooled plants. Critics of air-cooled technology say the generators are less efficient, but water-cooled plants use up to 10 times more water.

Power companies are seeking cheap land, reasonable environmental regulations and a central location for building electric generating plants, which has drawn applications to Southern Nevada.

But Nevada receives the smallest amount of water -- needed for cooling power plants -- from the Colorado River at 300,000 acre-feet a year. Ground water is strictly controlled by the state engineer.