Nevada's main electric utility plans a big, coal-burning generating station near Ely and a transmission line that officials said could for the first time move power between northern and southern areas of the state.
The $3 billion plan for twin 750 megawatt plants in White Pine
County and a 250-mile transmission line to Las Vegas would be part
of the biggest energy project in the state since Hoover Dam was
built in the 1930s, Sierra Pacific Resources officials said.
The project also includes plans for two 500 megawatt "coal
gasification" generating units. Combined, the four plants in the
Steptoe Valley could produce up to 2,500 megawatts - enough to
light 1.75 million homes per year.
Walt Higgins, Sierra's chairman and chief executive, noted
Hoover Dam and related canals cost $165 million when built 70 years
ago, and today help to generate up to 2,080 megawatts of
electricity from the flow of the Colorado River.
"You get the benefit of scale," Higgins said of the new
project, predicting improved reliability and relatively cheaper
power for customers. The plants would burn coal mined in Utah and
shipped to east-central Nevada by rail, a process that Higgins said
would be cheaper than burning natural gas or buying power on the
Higgins added the new transmission line would link areas served
by company subsidiaries Nevada Power Co. of Las Vegas and Sierra
Pacific Power of Reno, and let the companies collect several
hundred megawatts of planned "renewable" power produced by others
in the eastern and northern parts of the state.
"A lot of money Nevadans pay for energy is the cost of the
power plant," Higgins added. "That money goes to pay for somebody
else's power plant in some other state. This keeps the economic
benefits in Nevada, other than the fuel."
John Chachas, county commission chairman in economically
struggling White Pine County, said he'd welcome the jobs, tax
revenues and economic development that would accompany the Sierra
Pacific project. Chachas added he was assured the Sierra Pacific
project would emit few pollutants.
Ely, with about 4,000 people, is the seat of White Pine County,
which has a population of about 9,000. The town is located about
240 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Most of the electricity produced
would be sent to other parts of the Sierra Pacific grid.
White Pine County officials last year declared a severe
financial emergency, turned over financial control to the state and
discussed filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.
The county also is fighting a groundwater rights battle against
the powerful Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water Authority, which
has staked dozens of competing groundwater claims in two other
valleys near Ely.
White Pine has water rights in the valley where the Sierra
Pacific complex would be built, and the commission has pledged up
to 25,000 acre feet of water per year to another company that plans
a 1,600-megawatt coal-fired power plant nearby. An acre-foot is
about enough water to supply two households for a year.
Higgins said details of the White Pine County project would be
submitted next month to the state Public Utilities Commission.
Plans call for the project to use what company officials termed
"clean coal" technology to minimize environmental effects, and
"hybrid cooling" to reduce the amount of water needed to cool the
Higgins said the new plants would spur economic development in
the eastern part of Nevada, and give the company the ability to
move renewable power generated by solar, geothermal and wind
Sierra Pacific shares closed Monday at $13.10, up 13 cents or 1
percent in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Company stock
had traded between $9 and $15.36 over the last year.