Hearings under way on coal-fired power plant

ELKO, NEVADA - The long process of deciding whether to build a massive 1,500 megawatt coal-fired power plant in eastern Nevada is under way with the discussion of plans for the $3.8 billion facility.

The Ely Energy Center and its 250-mile transmission line would be fed by low-sulfur coal from Wyoming.

Coal trains leading to the plant could travel through Elko County on a 100-mile rail line that would connect to the Union Pacific mainline between Wendover and Wells.

The plans were discussed here and across the state last week as part of the process which could lead to BLM approval. Chris Hanefeld of the BLM's Ely office said He said the entire public review process will take at least two more years.

BLM officials are urging interested individuals to submit their comments in writing by Feb. 26.

The BLM ran into opposition from environmental groups in Las Vegas last week when the federal agency suggested that members of the public ask questions in individual conversations, rather than as a group.

BLM officials relented, however, and allowed the entire group to hear questions and answers about the project.

Sierra Club members and others say they are concerned about the large quantities of carbon dioxide that the coal-fired plant would emit and that would contribute to global warming.

Other critics say they are concerned about the cost of the project and how it will affect power rates.

Just the task of refurbishing the Nevada Northern Railroad to carry the heavy loads of coal trains once they leave the Union Pacific mainline will cost some $100 million, according to Nitin Luhar of the Sierra Pacific Power-Nevada Power combined project.

He said the upgrade would take 12 to 15 months to complete. With the power plant scheduled to come online in 2012, work could begin as early as 2010.

David Sims, director of project development for the state's two major power companies, said the Ely Energy Center is part of a master plan to reduce the dependence on purchased power and fluctuating natural gas rates since newer plants will continue to use this as an energy source.

The total of natural gas-powered plants and purchased power in 2008 is 70 percent of both companies' energy mix. With the more energy-efficient Ely plant, retirement of older coal plants by 2012, when the plant is scheduled to come on line, purchased power and gas-fired plants will be 34 percent of the energy portfolio, Sims said.

Along the way, renewable energy is scheduled to increase from 9 percent to 20 percent of the mix while coal will go up from 21 percent to 46 percent.

Sims called the Wyoming fuel the "cleanest coal in the West," and said emissions will be enhanced by "scrubbing" the low-sulfur coal product.

In 2016-2018 the plant will have an adjunct coal gasification facility, greatly increasing the plants efficiency. The plant's first phase will produce 1,500 megawatts and the second phase 1,000 megawatts.

One megawatt will supply approximately 650 homes for one year.

The plant was sited in White Pine County because it is central to the needs of both Sierra Pacific Power in the north and Nevada Power in the south.

The 250-mile transmission line will intersect with a spur that goes north from Ely and south through Nye and Lincoln counties to Apex in eastern Clark County.


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