LAS VEGAS — Nevada's largest utility plans to begin closing four coal-fired power plants northeast of Las Vegas and invest more money in renewable energy.
NV Energy officials said the closures long sought by a neighboring tribe, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others are scheduled to begin by the end of next year.
A summary of the plans being presented to state lawmakers on Wednesday concludes the move could cost ratepayers nearly 4 percent more over the next 20 years — with some individual annual rate increases bigger than that over the course of the project.
But company officials said the "emission reduction and capacity replacement plan" dubbed "NVision" will allow for accelerated development of wind, solar and geothermal energy as well as natural gas. They also project the investments will produce thousands of construction jobs over the next dozen years.
"Environmental regulatory uncertainty and aging coal generation facilities have intersected at this point in time to necessitate forward thinking innovative plans and solutions to address Nevada's future energy needs," the plan summary said.
Reid, D-Nev., most recently repeated his call for closing the plants during his annual address to the state Legislature in Carson City last month.
The Las Vegas Sun first reported details of the closure plans, which would divide the new investments roughly 60 percent for natural gas and 40 percent for renewables.
NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said Wednesday the plans would be formalized in an amendment to Senate Bill 123 to be presented by the end of the day to the Senate Energy Labor and Commerce Committee.
NV Energy Vice President Tony Sanchez said they plan to close three of four units by 2014 at the 553 megawatt Reid Gardner coal plant in Moapa about 40 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The fourth unit would remain operating until 2017.
The plans drew a mixed response from conservationists, consumer advocates and tribal leaders.
Dan Jacobsen of the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection fears the expedited closure plan will cost ratepayers more than the current plan to close Reid Gardner entirely in 2020. He anticipates rates increasing up to 8 percent within 10 years while NV Energy benefits from not only the new construction projects but also reimbursement for retiring the coal-fired generating plants.
"This is in effect a guarantee that the company gets to keep adding to their profits," he told the Sun.
Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada based in Reno, also expressed skepticism.
"We must stop putting coal pollution in the air, but we also need to make sure NV Energy doesn't use this as an excuse to take even more money from ratepayers to pad its already enormous profits," Fulkerson said Wednesday.
NV Energy officials acknowledged some annual rate hikes would be higher than others but estimates a 3.8 percent increase over the 20-year plan and maintains that would be less than otherwise would occur over the next two decades.
Sierra Club leaders share concerns about the new plans to invest more in natural gas plants but said it's significant that NV Energy now "unequivocally acknowledges that Nevada wants and needs to leave coal behind."
"Replacing that coal power with renewable energy will create jobs for Nevadans and a better future for our children," said Jane Feldman, chairman of the club's Energy Task Force in Nevada.
The Moapa Band of Paiute Indians have been fighting for years to force publicly traded NV Energy to decommission the plant. They argue that tribe members living on ancestral land have been sickened by soot, fine particles of pollution and gases.
"Closing Reid Gardner is the just thing to do," tribal chairman William Anderson said Wednesday. "This dirty coal plant has harmed our people's health for decades."
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