Last one standing
The Sierra Club pushes coal-investor Blackstone to give it up
Upwind of the Grand Canyon and less than 30 minutes from Mesquite, Nev., sits a controversial piece of property. It’s the proposed site for Sithe Global’s Toquop coal-fired power plant. Other coal plant proposals in Nevada have been shelved indefinitely, including two near Ely this year. They were two of at least 100 U.S. coal plant proposals postponed or cancelled in the past eight years. But the 750 megawatt Toquop is the last coal one standing in Nevada.
Coal accounts for a third of U.S. greenhouse gases and 25 percent of the world’s global warming emissions. It’s been linked to asthma, heart attacks and other health problems. The most profitable way to extract it involves removing mountaintops. Yet, the main reasons the recent coal plant proposals were shelved in Nevada came down to economics and regulations: Future carbon regulations by the federal government, like cap-and-trade policies, and rising construction costs of the plants have made them a risky endeavor.
Carbon regulations, uncertain water availability, and strong disapproval from Nevada ratepayers for the $5 billion plant have caused some local political and conservation leaders to all but consider coal plans for the site a dead issue. But many environmentalists aren’t ready to kick up their feet just yet.
The nationwide No Blackstone Coal campaign, of which Sierra Club is a part, specifically targets the Blackstone Group, a private equities firm that owns 80 percent of Sithe Global Power. Its petition, also available online, is directed at founder and CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who’s being encouraged to give up coal and invest in clean energy.
The local Sierra Club chapter held a panel discussion on Sept. 23 called “Beyond Coal in Nevada,” moderated by Christiane Brown of KJFK’s “The Solution Zone.” Guest speakers included Tim Hay, formerly of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada and a consumer advocate; architect and Truckee Meadows Community College professor Ric Licata; and Lisa Shevenell, director of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Research. There was no Blackstone representative. They discussed where Nevada stands in terms of renewable energy and how it can move beyond coal.
As the meeting progressed, related themes emerged, including: 1) Clean energy advocates need a clear message to counteract the huge coffers and political sway of coal industry lobbyists. Licata, in particular, thought the message should be one of national security. “The green economy is secure,” he said. 2) More energy efficient methods should be used to reduce the need for coal power and create jobs. And 3) Nevada has broad potential for renewable energy if only investors would focus their dollars and attentions there.
“The USGS estimates there are 30,000 megawatts of undiscovered and 9,000 megawatts of known geothermal resources in Nevada,” said Shevenell. But investments and transmission lines for those resources are lacking.
The coal industry has been pushing “clean coal,” a technology that stores carbon underground and is arguably a less polluting type of coal-fired power plant. The panelists, however, said “clean coal” is a myth.
“Expecting a gas to be stable in the substrata of the earth is not realistic,” said Shevenell of “clean coal.” “Nevada is full of [geologic] faults—maybe in other areas, but it’s not a good place for it here.”