Environmentalists hail utility’s decision to stop coal plant

ELY, NEVADA - Roberto Denis, senior vice president of NV Energy Inc., paused and smiled as he left a meeting at the Sahara West Library on a proposed $5 billion coal-fired power plant.

He pulled out his cell-phone and showed a photo of a poster, on which an environmentalist had written: "Thank You NV Energy."

The previous day, the electric utility company announced that it was shelving the 1,500-megawatt power project that it proposed three years ago on federal land 20 miles north of Ely. Formerly hostile environmentalists became friendly overnight.

The company said it will not build the plant until technology for storing and capturing carbon dioxide was commercially feasible. That ended a three-year war of words with environmental groups that feared the plant's carbon dioxide emissions would contribute to global warming.

The Bureau of Land Management already had scheduled a public comment session at the library on the power plant.

Some of the 70 attendees still wanted to comment on the project and some brought props, including a gas mask and bucket for cleaning coal, to make their point.

"Nobody has beaten up on them more than I have in two years," said Charles Benjamin, leader of Nevadans for Clean Affordable Reliable Energy. But he added: "It takes a company with some guts to say we've re-evaluated where we were going. We want to go in a new direction."

John Baietti, an outspoken opponent of the company during a $922 million energy rate case in 2002, said NV Energy should stick with plans to develop the power plant.

By using coal, the Ely project would reduce reliance on natural gas, which has volatile prices. It would stabilize power rates, Baietti said.

"You think you're paying high power rates? That's nothing (compared with what will come)," Baietti said.

"This is one power plant," he said. "China has 2,000 that pollute like there is no tomorrow." Baietti compared stopping the Ely project to stepping on one ant while thousands continued to swarm. Steve Rypka disagreed, saying sparsely populated Nevada shouldn't be compared to the world's most populated country.

In the United States, "we also emit the most carbon dioxide of any country on the planet," Rypka said. "It's up to us to take a leadership role and fix that."

Taking a chance on "runaway climate change," he said, "doesn't make sense when we have such great alternatives."

Rypka supported NV Energy's plan to build a 250-mile transmission line that would enable the utility company to tap renewable energy resources, such as solar power and geothermal energy from hot underground water and steam.

Michele Burkett, an opponent of a separate coal plant planned outside of Mesquite, said thank you to NV Energy "for being a progressive and reconsidering your coal-fired plant." She added: "I hope it is postponed forever."


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