Land for coal plant OK’d

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Monday approved land for one giant billion-dollar coal-fired power plant near Ely and issued a draft decision on a second one nearby.

Yet neither project is assured of being built.

The federal agency decided to grant right-of-way land for the 1,600-megawatt coal-fired White Pine Energy Station that LS Power of East Brunswick, N.J., plans to build 30 miles north of Ely.

While the BLM issued a final environmental impact statement for the LS Power project, the agency on Friday posted a copy of an environmental impact statement draft for the $5 billion Ely Energy Station that NV Energy proposes to build nearby.

The final approval on the LS Power project was encouraging to David Sims, director of project development for NV Energy, because he believes NV Energy’s project attains higher standards for reduction of pollutants.

“We’re confident we’d get the same treatment (from BLM),” Sims said.

The BLM action on the LS Power project “is a huge step toward bringing the project to reality,” said Mark Milburn, director of project development at LS Power.

However, Milburn said he expects environmental groups to appeal the BLM decision on the White Pine plant.

Charles Benjamin, Nevada office director of Western Resource Advocates, agreed, saying he expects a group of environmental groups to file an administrative appeal. The appeal will point to deficiencies the groups found in the BLM action Monday, he said.

Environmental groups and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., have spoken against more coal-fired power plants, saying they create pollution associated with greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said the Senate majority leader remains steadfast in his opposition.

“LS Power would be wiser and more helpful to its own investors to withdraw the proposal to build an enormous coal plant to import millions of tons of coal, pollute Nevada’s skies and sell its power to other states, and instead focus on developing clean renewable power in our state as rapidly as possible,” Summers said in a statement.

Both the White Pine plant and the Ely center need final air permits from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. The division has not decided how it will react to an appeals board decision that required the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider an air permit granted for a coal-fired power plant at Bonanza, Utah.

Karen Rajala, coordinator of the White Pine County Community and Economic Development Department, called the BLM actions positive news, but she declined to speculate on either or both of the power plants being built.

“I don’t participate in setting odds,” she said, laughing. “We’re just very hopeful it will result in energy development for White Pine County.”

Local leaders want to diversify their economy, which has been subject to cyclical changes in the fortunes of mining companies, she said. The coal-fired power plants could help bring additional industry and provide young people with good-paying jobs, she said.

NV Energy suspects it will take another year for the BLM to issue a final decision on the Ely Energy Center, Sims said.

The utility company in November 2007 postponed construction of the Ely center for 31/2 years, because of delays in BLM action on the plant. The first of two units is now expected to begin power generation by 2015, followed by a second in 2016.

In addition, NV Energy is waiting to see what kind of carbon dioxide regulations may be required by Congress and how much more expensive the rules might make coal-fired power, Sims said.

Coal-fired plants throw off about twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas plants of the same size.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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