Sithe to use solar, natural gas for Mesquite power plant

The last of three planned coal-fired power plants in Nevada is off the table, replaced with a proposal that will incorporate natural gas and solar power.

Sithe Global Power of Houston said Monday that new plans for its Toquop Energy Project electricity plant near Mesquite will feature 700 megawatts of natural gas-fired generating capacity and 100 megawatts of sun-powered electricity output.

"(Toquop) will be one of the cleanest and most energy-friendly ways to produce the power Nevada needs to grow and upgrade its aging generating base," said Tony James, president and chief operating officer of the Blackstone Group, the company that operates Sithe Global.

James announced the company’s new plans for the $1.45 billion Toquop project in a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mesquite Mayor Susan Holecheck.

Holecheck praised Reid for "working tirelessly" as an advocate for the coal-fired plant’s opponents. She also thanked Sithe’s "willingness to compromise."

"I know this must have been a costly consideration, but looking to the future wellness of our people and the environment carries larger benefits for all," she said.

It’s been a tough environment for coal-fired power plants, as green groups and politicians pepper public meetings and regulatory hearings with testimony about the effect that burning coal, with its carbon dioxide emissions, might have on the planet’s climate.

Developers have tabled proposals for the other two coal-fired plants planned in the Silver State. NV Energy officials said in February 2009 that they would indefinitely postpone development of the utility’s 1,500-megawatt Ely Energy Center in Northern Nevada until technology for capturing and storing carbon dioxide was more readily available. And in March 2009, LS Power indefinitely halted construction of its 1,600-megawatt White Pine Energy Station near Ely because of the slumping economy and "increasing regulatory uncertainties."

For Sithe, though, ditching the coal and transforming Toquop into a natural gas-powered generating station actually means dusting off part of the company’s original proposal for the site.

Sithe initially planned the station in 2003 as a 1,100-megawatt power plant run with natural gas. The developer later switched to coal because coal prices are less volatile than natural gas prices, so coal would improve Sithe’s efforts to sign long-term power-purchasing contracts with utilities.

But Mesquite citizens and environmentalists protested the change in plans, and Sithe pulled back on plans for the coal-powered plant.

James said construction of the plant would create about 1,000 union jobs. It should break ground in 2011. The solar-powered component should come online in 2012, while the natural gas-powered side should be operational in 2015.

NV Energy said Monday that it has no current plans to buy power from the Toquop plant, and it continues to evaluate and pursue the best options to meet its customers’ energy needs.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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