RENO — Conservationists say electric utility ratepayers would save hundreds of millions of dollars if a big coal-fired power plant in northern Nevada was shut down earlier than its planned closure.
Scheduled to close in 2025, the North Valmy plant along U.S. Interstate 80 about 200 miles east of Reno is the last fully functioning coal plant in Nevada and the state’s single largest source of carbon pollution.
Leaders of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign released an economic analysis Friday they say bolsters the case for shuttering the plant in 2019 because of its growing inefficiency when sources of cheaper, renewable energy are available and transmission capabilities are expanding.
Co-owned by the Nevada-based NV Energy and the Idaho Power Company, the 522-megawatt facility serves most of northern Nevada and parts of Idaho. Data shows the plant operated at less than one-third of capacity in 2015, according to the study prepared for the Sierra Club by Synapse Energy Economics Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“This report makes it perfectly clear that Valmy is a bad deal for NV Energy customers,” said Elspeth Dimarzio, the Beyond Coal Campaign’s Nevada organizing representative. “It is time to close the last, old, dirty coal plant in Nevada and replace it with clean, renewable energy. It would benefit NV Energy customers as well as Nevada’s environment.”
Peter Kostes, public information officer for the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, said the commission had no immediate comment.
NV Energy spokesman Mark Severts said in an email Friday the utility is “reviewing the report and will follow a defined regulatory process for the future of the North Valmy generating station.”
Idaho Power officials haven’t had a chance yet to review the report thoroughly, Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin said.
Travis Ritchie, a staff attorney with the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, said they intend to present the report to the governors’ New Energy Industry Task Force.
“Ratepayers are losing money every hour that Valmy is required to operate and it’s only going to be faced with more costs,” Ritchie said. “Practically speaking, there is no barrier to taking the plant down in 2020.”
NV Energy proposed in 2012 that one of Valmy’s two units be closed in 2021, but the Nevada Public Utilities Commission disagreed and set 2025 retirement dates for both units.
Ritchie said that decision was based on concerns about the reliability of new energy resources, “as well as a loss of fuel diversity and inability to hedge against high gas prices.”
Since then, he said prices for solar and other renewable energy sources have been plummeting and forecasts for natural gas prices continue to show them dropping.