Another Coal Plant Bites the Dust!

The final nail in the coffin of the last proposed Nevada coal plant came on Monday when the President of the New York-based Blackstone Group joined Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and the Mayor of Mesquite on a telephone press conference to jointly announce that the company was abandoning plans for the 750 MW merchant Toquop coal plant and instead would build a 700-MW natural gas plant along side a 100-MW PV solar facility.

The switch from coal to natural and solar will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% and will create 1,000 construction jobs over a three-year period. The power complex will also use 60 to 70% less fresh water than the proposed coal plant. This is another environmental advantage given lingering drought conditions throughout much of the West. Increasing attention is being placed on the best and highest use of fresh water in arid climates.

To put this decision in context, consider the following: Not one single coal plant broke ground in 2009, according to the Sierra Club. A total of 26 coal plants were abandoned during 2009 that would have emitted 146 million tons of carbon dioxide. Interestingly enough, wind power generation in the U.S. increased by 22.5% between 2008 and 2009.

Historical photo of coal miners

Historical photo of coal miners

There are several central themes that are playing across a spate of decisions canceling coal plants. Among them being the financial and environmental risks with coal, local opposition from organizations and citizens concerned about regional air quality and global climate change, and the superior performance of renewable energy resources on creating employment when compared to coal.

In terms of Nevada, there is growing interest in tapping the state’s vast solar, geothermal and wind resources instead of dirty coal to maximize job creation from development of new power supplies. Here are three observations from Tim Wagner, program director for Resource Media, with his office in Salt Lake City, Utah:

  • This was and is a momentous occasion, considering that just over a year ago we were still fighting three huge coal plants in Nevada. over 4800 MWs combined. (And actually this is the fourth such proposed plant to go down in Nevada in a span of about 4 years.) The ripples of such movement goes clear across the country and back, many times, in terms of the future of coal in the U.S.
  • We have been playing a “smoke ‘em out” if you will regarding the plant developer, Sithe, and their parent company Blackstone for over a year (who largely remained silent) using the full menu of media options to highlight the other plant failures, investor risks of coal, local voices of opposition, the need for clean energy, etc. When the Mesquite Mayor went public two weeks ago with inside information from Sithe, we chose to capitalize on it, certainly a strategy with some risk. But I think it’s safe to assume that this was at least partly responsible for Monday’s formal announcement on March 22, 2010.
  • We also made sure that a couple of reporters in the four corners region would be on a Monday’s conference call in order to put the Nevada decision into the context of the planned Desert Rock 1500-MW coal plant on the Navajo reservation, another Blackstone venture. Upon inquiry, the Blackstone official would only say, “At the moment, we’re not changing anything.” That quote, in and of itself, coming for the first time from a Blackstone official, is a clear signal that Desert Rock is tenuous — at best — in the eyes of the money guys.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that coal production fell nearly 8% in 2009, and is expected to decline by an additional 7% in 2010.

  • Regulators released a 60-page executive summary of the DRECP at an event headlined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Sen. Barbara Boxer. read here.



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