NV Energy pulling plug on coal-fired power plant near Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Environmental advocates and members of an Indian tribe who live nearby hailed the closure Thursday of an embattled coal-fired NV Energy power plant 40 miles north of Las Vegas.

Officials from the state's dominant electric utility marked the occasion by flipping a transformer switch to disconnect the fourth and final unit of the Reid Gardner Generating Station near Moapa from the regional power grid. The first three units shut down in late 2014.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes, which has long blamed the Reid-Gardner plant for environmental and health concerns, issued a statement applauding NV Energy "for standing by its commitment to retire this plant."

State lawmakers called for the closure in 2013.

RenewNV, a group of organizations advocating for use of renewable energy, called the shutdown a victory for clean air and healthy communities.

The closure leaves just one coal-fired generating station in the state — a plant that NV Energy co-owns near Valmy in northern Nevada. It is due to close by 2025.

NV Energy also plans by the end of 2019 to give up its 11.3 percent stake in the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station east of Page, Arizona. That plant is operated by Phoenix-based SRP.

NV Energy has shifted production since 2005 toward renewable sources, including 19 geothermal, 14 solar, six hydroelectric, one wind and several biomass and methane plants in Nevada, said Starla Lacy, company environmental services executive. She said carbon emissions have been cut 44 percent over the same period.

Many of the about 320 Moapa Paiute tribe members who live near Reid-Gardner complained for years about respiratory ailments. They blamed plant emissions and coal ash dust that advocates said contained high levels of mercury, arsenic, chromium, lead and other toxins.

Public health officials didn't directly link ailments to the plant.

NV Energy and the California Department of Water Resources, which co-owns Reid-Gardner, agreed in July 2015 to pay $4.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit claiming violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act. The companies didn't acknowledge liability or wrongdoing.

The money was for a community health center, and to help the tribe buy water rights, monitor air quality and hire technicians to oversee cleanup of pollution in and around the Muddy River, a tributary to the Colorado River at the Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam. The lake is the primary drinking water supply for 2 million Las Vegas residents and tens of millions of tourists.

Reid-Gardner opened in the 1960s and 70s, and generated up to 557 megawatts of electricity at peak production. The unit just closed was producing about 250 megawatts, or enough to power about 38,000 homes according to Solar Energy Industries Association estimates. It is expected to be demolished.

Jennifer Taylor, of the nonprofit Clean Energy Project in Las Vegas, called the closure "a testament to persistence and good policy."

Sierra Club official Elspeth DiMarzio said it showed the region can affordably rely on efficiency and renewable power, without coal.

NV Energy today has seven gas-fired power plants in southern Nevada generating enough electricity to power more than 660,000 homes.

Publicly traded NV Energy is owned by Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary MidAmerican Energy Co. of Des Moines, Iowa.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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