As the dispute continues between the Sierra Club, the Moapa Indian Tribe, assorted environmental groups, and NV Energy, the operator of the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, (which is blamed for a myriad of problems) the question arises; why does NV Energy not just give it up, get rid of coal, and switch to some other form of power generation?
In a highly critical report released June 14 by the Sierra Club, it is suggested that it would be significantly cheaper for NV Energy rate payers if the utility would retire the 50 year old coal-fired Reid Gardner plant. An independent economic analysis of NV Energy data by Resource Insight, Inc., on behalf of the Sierra Club found that retiring the plant by 2013 would save $59 million dollars rather than continuing the operation until 2023.
If the company had acted sooner, $121 million would have been saved, the Sierra Club contends. The report states that retiring the plant would also save 8,300 acre feet (2.7 billion gallons) of fresh water the plant uses each year for its operations. It would also potentially save millions of dollars associated with the health costs related to the coal controversy about the plant's smoke stack emissions and groundwater contamination.
See Mesquite Citizen Journal story Report Finds Closing Reid Gardner Coal Plant Would Save Money
Added to that critique, the Moapa Indian tribe living next door to the plant alleges emissions from the plant are making people sick, even killing them. “It's getting really scary on the res,” said Paiute member Vernon Lee. “We are dying at an alarming rate, much higher than the average.”
At a recent meeting with the EPA, tribal members told of a host of medical problems from asthma, respiratory ailments, heart disease, headaches and strokes. They told of seeing a white haze drift over their homes from the power plant and children getting sick or getting nose bleeds from playing outside. Tribal members contend the blowing coal ash and polluted water from the landfill is contaminating the environment around them.
"However," said David Sharp, Plant Direct of the Reid Gardner station told the Mesquite Citizen Journal June 26, “the answer is not so simple.”
“We have a mandate to provide energy to our customers at the most reasonable cost possible and in a safe, responsible manner. The utility is also required by state law to buy 12 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, which we already do. To keep the cost down for consumers, we use the cheapest source available and, at this time, it is coal. All of our operations are approved by the Public Utility Commission of Nevada and have been reviewed by the Southern Nevada Department of Health.”
“We also have retrofitted this plant to make it safer and cleaner,” said Mark Severts, Project Communications Director. “In 2007, we began to retrofit all of the units using clean natural gas igniters, we have added more stringent emissions limits that now capture 99.9 percent of all particulate emissions at a total cost of over $84 million dollars.”
The plant's high efficiency scrubbing systems allow it to consistently rank among the top 10 percent of plants nationwide for its low sulfur rate emissions.
“The start up costs for renewable energy projects are high,” said Sharp. “If we closed this plant, the cost would be reflected in people's electric bill and that bill would go up. We currently have contracts for a stable supply of an energy producer and we can't get that with other resources. Natural gas prices, for example, fluctuate wildly and will give us only short contracts. We don't want to put rate payers in a position of being hostage to price swings.”
See Mesquite Citizen Journal story Energy Wars Raging All Around Mesquite
In addition to price considerations, the Reid Gardner plant disputes statements made by the Sierra Club.
“When this plant was built in the late 1960s and 1970s, the plant was built with the technology of that time,” said Sharp. “As environmental regulations change, we change with them. We want to be good neighbors, especially to the Moapa area. There is a misconception about this type of plant so we are open and transparent about everything we do."
"There was a complaint about the smell so we are moving the ponds away from our neighbors and out of the flood plain. There was an allegation of water contamination, so we made new ponds that are double lined with state-of-the-art leak detection and recovery systems that also reduce the potential for odors. We even have odor monitors located a distance from the plant so if there is a release, the monitor immediately notifies me and someone responds,” Sharp explained.
In March, the EPA issued new guidelines that could limit greenhouse gases from new power plants that could go into effect as early as 2013. No coal plants can be built unless they meet very stringent carbon dioxide capture standards. Politicians who support the coal industry are scrambling to overturn it.
“Every time you hear something about doing away with the EPA during a debate or by a presidential candidate, it really means the speaker is for coal,” said Harold Cassity, a spokesman for a Nevada environmental group. “If there is a change in the White House, coal will be back with a vengeance.”
“Another thing to remember is jobs,” said Jane Feldman of the Sierra Club. “Reid Gardner buys the majority of its coal from Utah and Wyoming. That translates into Reid Gardner supporting a lot of jobs out of state when we could have those homegrown jobs right here in Nevada. Not to mention that 2.7 billion gallons of water taken from the Muddy River that could be used for better purposes.”
Severt said that the Reid station employs about 130 people and utilizes more than 100 local contractors and shutting it down would cause a significant loss of those jobs for this area. Also, only a third of the water is taken from the Muddy River, another third is taken from NV Energy wells in the area and the last third is leased from the LDS church wells in Moapa.
Sharp also noted that vehicles contribute more carbon dioxide emissions than the Reid plant and pose a much greater problem of trying to control those types of emissions. In addition, the use of sophisticated filters and sprinkler systems at Reid keeps coal ash from becoming airborne.
“Bottom line is, we are regulated by the Public Utility Commission, The Environmental Protection Agency, the BLM, the health district, the water district, state law, various other regulators and we operate a plant that meets all appropriate standards,” said Sharp. “We report to all those regulators and file an integrated resource plan for everyone to see. The plant provides electricity for our customers at a rate they want.”
Severt added, “NV Energy will continue its commitment to operate Reid in an environmentally responsible manner, in compliance with all federal and state laws, and in the best interests of its customers. We will continue to work within the appropriate processes established by the Public Utility Commission of Nevada and do what makes sense for our customers. It is important to note that this plant represents an important hedge against the potential for higher natural gas prices, which have been volatile in the past.”
NV Energy President and CEO Michael Yackira, in a shareholder's meeting said, “We have a mandate to meet our customers' needs and to do it as cheaply as possible. Every action we take as a company is to keep the costs as low as we can.”
Whatever the perception is of the Reid Gardner plant, the controversy will not soon go away. In the meantime, the plant will continue to operate, until they are told differently.