There are questions about the future of a big coal-fired power plant near Gerlach in northern Washoe County proposed by California-based Sempra Energy.
The company has told the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to stop
work on a federally required environmental impact study.
"We are planning to put it on hold for three to six months at
their request, Gail Givins, the BLM's field manager in Winnemucca,
told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Givens said the environmental studies usually cost between $1
million and $3 million. For a 1,200 megawatt power plant, he
suspects the cost would be on the high side because of the impacts
to the air, groundwater, wildlife and many other issues.
A special-use permit for the plant in Washoe County has not been
filed and would await completion of the environmental study. A
state permit required for air quality was rejected in July as
incomplete and a new application has not yet been filed.
"There are no live applications for the Granite Fox project
anywhere," said Chris Ralph, a senior environmental planner with
the Washoe District Health Department.
Sempra spokesman Doug Kline in San Diego said the company is
holding back on all of the permits while "reconfiguring the
project design, based on talks with potential partners and
"Obviously, the design of the project is integral to any
application," he said.
Kline said new regulations coming in California to forbid
importing coal-fired power is the biggest reason for changing the
plant design. The policy forbids investor-owned utilities from
signing long-term contracts for power that pollutes more than
natural-gas fired plants.
"It's definitely a setback," said Nevada Assemblyman Pete
Goicoechea, R-Eureka, whose district includes Gerlach. "At a
minimum, it's being downsized. At maximum, it might go away."
Goicoechea said he was told by a Sempra lobbyist that the
company needs to line up a long-term contract for at least 600
megawatts of power. Without that, he said Sempra would have a hard
time raising $2.5 billion to build it.
Another major issue is that the water the power plant would
consume is needed for the future growth of Reno and Sparks, said
Jon Wellinghoff of the Nevada Clean Energy Coalition, formed to
fight the project.
"There's no way Washoe County has the luxury anymore to have a
fossil-fuel plant site in the county with the water issues we now
have. It's too important for the county's economic health to allow
water to be blown up in the air in a cooling tower."
In November, Sempra announced that it was scaling back the
project from 1,450 megawatts to 1,200 megawatts because of water.
After initial studies, the sustainable water rights sought dropped
from 16,000 acre-feet to 12,000 acre-feet a year.
A proposed regional amendment for the Truckee Meadows calls for
up to 140,000 acres for growth for the next 100 years. But regional
and county officials say available, known water sources in Washoe
County are not enough to supply growth already approved.