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October 22, 2017

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NV Energy pulls plug on three of Reid Gardner plant’s four coal-fired generators

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Sam Morris

A Union Pacific train unloads its coal Friday, Dec. 10, 1999 at Nevada Power Company’s Reid Gardner power station near Moapa.

The Reid Gardner Power Plant has closed three of its four coal-generated units, a symbolic victory for Nevada’s environmental advocates and the Moapa Band of Paiutes.

NV Energy, the plant's operator, says it retired the three 100-megawatt generators on Dec. 20.

Facing more than a decade of criticism from coal’s opponents, the company has incrementally diminished Reid Gardner’s output in the past two years. The company used it as a resource to handle peak energy demands during the summer. The capacity of the three retired units has been replaced by two natural gas fired plants: the 274-megawatt Las Vegas Cogeneration Associates and the 222-megawatt Sun Peak Generating Facility.

The shuttering of the three coal units at Reid Gardner will be followed by the closure of Reid-Gardner’s fourth and final unit in 2017. The recent closure will have a minimal effect on the power grid, the company said, and will not prompt a rate increase for consumers.

The decision to close Reid Gardner stems from the 2013 passage of Senate Bill 123, which aimed at reducing 800 megawatts of coal-generated electricity in the state by 2019.

The closure highlights a critical step for environmental advocates battling to curb the nation’s fossil fuel consumption.

Critics denounce the plant as one of the dirtiest in the nation. The plant is located adjacent to the Moapa Band of Paiutes Indian Reservation and has been blamed for health problems among tribal members.

Federal and Nevada courts have levied more than $6.8 million in sanctions against Reid Gardner since 1991 for emission violations and the improper destruction of a cooling tower. The U.S. Department of Justice demanded the power plant undertake more than $85 million in pollution-reducing improvements in 2007. The deal was a settlement that resulted from a year-long Environmental Protection Agency investigation that found 56 violations in federal air pollution standards at the plant.

The California Department of Water Resources purchased power from Reid Gardner between 1979 and 2013. The department, which is the biggest power user in California, said emissions from Reid Gardner accounted for 30 percent of its pollution — or about 1.5 million tons of emissions per year.

The power plant’s first generator came online during President Lyndon Johnson’s Administration and the last was built in the 1980s. Kyle Davis, political director of the Nevada Conservation League, said the closure has been a long time coming.

“We are definitely celebrating this,” he said.

The closure ushers in a new era for NV Energy and aims to thrust Nevada as a larger consumer of renewable energy. The Senate bill requires NV Energy to install 350 megawatts of renewable energy by 2021, while other legislation requires the state to build 25 percent of its energy portfolio from solar, wind and geothermal by 2025.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid was a staunch critic of the power plant and one of the leading voices calling for a switch to renewables.

“For years the Moapa Band of Paiutes endured the consequences of breathing dangerous pollution from the Reid Gardner coal plant, and I am pleased that Nevadans and its leaders united to stand up for the Moapa Band and create new opportunities for the tribe,” he said in a media release.

The new opportunities, though, have yet to be cemented.

As part of its plan to retire Reid Gardner, NV Energy proposed building a 175-megawatt solar farm on Moapa land. State regulators quashed the solar proposal three days before the closures at the power plant. The utility company wanted to choose a solar contractor without entering into a public bidding process, but the Public Utility Commission said blocked it.

NV Energy has until Feb. 17 to decide on whether it will open a public bid or devise a new plan.

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