Friday, March 13, 2009 | 2 a.m.
LS Power has announced it is shelving plans to build the controversial White Pine Energy Center near Ely.
The planned 1,600-megawatt coal-fired power plant received initial permits from the Bureau of Land Management three months ago.
But the project has faced setbacks as business partners jumped ship, the BLM permits were appealed to the Interior Department’s Board of Land Appeals, public opposition mounted in two states and expected federal carbon-capture legislation threatened to drive skyward the price of generating electricity from coal.
LS Power said in a statement it would shift its focus to completing the Southwest Intertie Project, a planned 500-kilovolt transmission line that will extend 500 miles from southern Idaho through eastern Nevada to the Las Vegas area.
The project would allow developers to move forward with planned renewable energy resources in several rural areas, move electricity between Nevada’s two grids and fill a troublesome gap in the intermountain area’s electric transmission grid.
The company expects to begin construction on the transmission line this summer.
“As demand for renewable energy increases we are focusing more and more of our internal resources on providing transmission solutions for both renewable project developers and load serving entities,” LS Power President Paul Thessen said in a statement.
The announcement that the coal plant would not be built in the immediate future was hailed by environmentalists, conservationists and renewable energy advocates, including Sen. Harry Reid.
“I’m glad to see LS Power has seen the light and is now focusing its resources on creating clean energy economic opportunities, rather than the old combustion technologies of yesterday,” Reid said in a statement that praised the transmission line. “Nevada has an incredible opportunity to grow thousands of new jobs through increasing renewable power production from our solar, wind and geothermal resources and by encouraging strategic investments in improving
transmission to get that power to the people.”
The announcement came just days before two Public Utilities Commission hearings on whether the coal plant is needed.
The company notified the PUC on March 5 it was suspending its application for a permit with the commission until it can obtain the necessary air permit from the Nevada Environmental Protection Division.
Nevada law requires that before facilities of this type can be built, the PUC must determine there is a need for the plant, all regulatory approvals have been granted and the need for the plant balances any adverse environmental effects.
Although the plant has strong support in the Ely area, it is opposed by environmentalists, health activists and clean air advocates across the West as well as supporters of National Parks and renewable energy.
The company said in previous interviews that it anticipated a long and tough legal battle with groups opposing the plant.
Dynegy, a company that partnered with LS Power under the moniker White Pine Energy Associates to build the plant, announced in January it was abandoning all coal plant development because of the lack of public support and regulatory uncertainty.
The White Pine Energy Center is one of dozens of coal plants across the country to be postponed indefinitely or canceled outright in recent years.
It is the second planned Nevada coal plant in as many months to fall victim to political and economic uncertainty.
NV Energy announced last month it would not pursue the planned Ely Energy Center until emission controlling carbon capture technology could be deployed at a reasonable price.
The third coal plant, planned near Mesquite, is still under environmental review by the BLM. It is widely opposed by residents.
Meanwhile, federal permit activity for all three coal plants continues, according to BLM Nevada spokesman Chris Hanefeld.
LS Power and the BLM are still preparing to defend the BLM’s permission to build the White Pine Energy Center.
The decision was appealed last month by a consortium of environmental, health and parks groups wishing to get the project canceled.
If construction on the White Pine Energy Center doesn’t begin within five years, the company would need to apply for a BLM extension of the permit or abandon plans to build the coal plant.
NV Energy’s Ely Energy Center has an active BLM file, which is expected to be amended soon as the utility seeks to split the postponed coal plant from plans to build a large cross-state transmission line connecting the state’s electrical grids.
Stephanie Tavares covers utilities and law for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. She can be reached at 259-4059 or at [email protected]