CARSON CITY — A long-term plan that will allow Nevada Power to permanently end its reliance on coal-generated electricity by 2019 was approved Wednesday by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and will be accepted by the utility, NV Energy CEO Paul Caudill said.
This comes despite the disappointing decision by the commission to reject a modified solar project proposed for the Moapa River Paiute Indian Reservation, he said.
The solar project on the reservation was shovel ready and would have provided power to the company’s customers by the end of 2016, Caudill said.
It would have created several hundred construction jobs and helped economic diversification efforts by the tribe, he said.
“We still believe that renewable energy will play a significant role here, especially with utility-scale renewals,” Caudill said. “We felt it was a strong, good project that was ready to go.”
Utility-scale solar projects are an effective way to reduce greenhouse gases, provide a mix of resources and help with price stability, he said.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also expressed disappointment at the PUC’s action.
In a statement, he said: “The health and economic well-being of Nevadans is best served by the state and utility divorcing ourselves from fossil-fuel dependence and advancing toward clean energy independence.
“It took some time for the state’s largest utility to recognize this, but under their new leadership they have been exemplary in their efforts to embrace clean energy,” he added. “It is frustrating to see the Public Utilities Commission continue to reject this course.”
Reid said clean energy has created thousands of good-paying jobs and invested billions in Nevada’s economy, and that the PUC “should not stand in the way of this progress.”
Barbara Boyle, Sierra Club senior campaign representative, also expressed disappointment, saying in a statement that efforts by the Moapa Tribe to create jobs and pursue clean energy have been thwarted by the PUC decision.
“NV Energy’s unique proposal to partner with the tribe is integral to the project’s success, and it is disappointing that the commission has once again kicked the can down the road by keeping this shovel-ready project from breaking ground,” she said.
Tribal members and representatives of Southern Nevada’s union labor groups testified in support of the revised Moapa solar project before the vote.
But Dan Jacobsen, technical staff manager for the Consumer Protection Bureau, which opposed allowing the project to proceed as proposed, said the decision was a win for consumers.
The original project expected to see the electricity come in at a cost of about $111 a megawatt hour, he said. The revised project lowered that price to $91.69 per megawatt hour.
But the utility is also proceeding with other alternative-energy projects that are reflecting much lower prices than even the reduced number proposed for the Moapa project, Jacobsen said. So the commission vote will require the utility to come back with a project that reflects more competitive pricing, he said.
Caudill said the utility will have to wait to see the final order from the PUC before deciding how to fill the remaining 54 megawatts of electricity needed to complete its energy resources portfolio that the Moapa project would have satisfied.
The PUC order requires the utility to solicit proposals to fill the gap.
But other major elements of the plan were approved, including the purchase of two gas plants, the LV Cogen Unit 2 and Sun-Peak Generating Unit, which will provide 496 megawatts of replacement power generation. Also approved was a 15-megawatt solar project at Nellis Air Force Base.
Caudill said all of these elements of the replacement plan will proceed as scheduled, allowing the utility to shut down three of its four Reid Gardner coal-fired units by year’s end.
The fourth unit at the Reid Gardner plant near Moapa is scheduled to close in 2017, and the utility will end its ownership interest in the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Ariz., by 2019. In all, 812 megawatts of coal-fired generation will be retired or eliminated.
Caudill said he respects the work of the PUC and its staff and called the decision a short-term action that the utility will work through. The utility will also continue to work with the Moapa tribe to help in its economic development efforts, he said.