Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2019

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Utilities column:

Groups band together to thwart coal-fired power plant

Several conservation, health and clean energy groups have filed an appeal with the Interior Department’s Board of Land Appeals to stop a proposed coal-fired power plant near Ely.

The appeal seeks to invalidate a Bureau of Land Management use permit, halt further issuing of permits and future construction of the proposed 1,600-megawatt coal-fired power plant called the White Pine Energy Center.

The planned $2.5 billion plant is one of three controversial proposed coal plants in Nevada: two in Ely, one in Mesquite.

The BLM published its approval of the White Pine plant Dec. 22 after issuing the final environmental impact statement in October.

Before construction can begin, plant developer LS Power still needs permits from the Nevada Environmental Protection Division and the Public Utilities Commission.

“Instead of allowing a huge new dirty coal plant, LS Power and BLM should take the lead from other companies and public agencies that are working to meet electricity demand through energy efficiency and renewables,” John Barth, an attorney for the groups, said in a statement. “We plan to vigorously contest the project to prevent a tremendous setback to these efforts to rein in global-warming pollution and to protect the health of area residents.”

The appeal was filed by a consortium that includes the Bristlecone Alliance, Sevier Citizens for Clean Air and Water, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Great Basin Resource Watch, Post Carbon Salt Lake, Nevada Wildlife Federation, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Western Resource Advocates and the National Parks Conservation Association. (Full disclosure: As the daughter of a retired park ranger, this reporter has been a longtime member of the National Parks Conservation Association).

The group is represented by attorneys from Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting sensitive lands and wildlife and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.

The groups claim the type and location of the proposed power plant and the resulting pollution would be detrimental to the health of nearby residents and would damage national parks in the area.

The groups claim BLM ignored the facility’s potential health effects, the effect on local water supplies, deterioration of air quality and visibility, effects on protected plants and animals, and the potentially massive contribution of greenhouse gases.

LS Power Director of Project Development Mark Milburn contested these claims, saying the power developer and the BLM long ago worked out compromises that would offset or reduce the negative effects of the coal plant.

“We’ve been expecting an appeal all along — it’s a normal part of project development,” Milburn said. “What I do know is BLM spent more than four years analyzing the project and potential impacts and identifying mitigations to reduce those impacts. And as a result they have a very thorough and comprehensive EIS (environmental impact statement) and as such a very sound record of decision. I look forward to standing next to BLM and defending it in the appeals process.”

The appeal will likely push back the construction start date for the White Pine Energy Center, which LS Power had hoped to begin in the fall.

The construction schedule could also be affected by the breakup of White Pine Energy Associates, an alliance between LS Power and Dynegy since 2006.

The merger collapsed this month when Dynegy announced it was pulling out of all coal plant development ventures with LS Power because of the increasing difficulty of getting such projects beyond the planning stages and growing public support of renewable energy initiatives over fossil fuel burning plants.

Stephanie Tavares covers utilities and law for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. She can be reached at 259-4059 or at [email protected].

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