Environmental groups are allowed to review Nevada power plant agreements | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Environmental groups are allowed to review Nevada power plant agreements

RENO – State environmental regulators have decided to allow a coalition of environmental groups to take part in a review of agreements with three companies that want to build coal-fired power plants in Nevada.

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection took the action Friday, a week after the coalition known as Nevadans for Clean, Affordable, Reliable Energy sent a letter to the state seeking to open the process to the public.

The coalition, which includes the Sierra Club and Citizen Alert, has until this Friday to comment on the draft memorandums of understanding between NDEP and Sierra Pacific Resources, LS Power Associates and Sithe Global Power.

The MOUs would require the companies to capture carbon dioxide once the technology becomes commercially feasible. They also would require the power plants to be designed so they can be retrofitted with technology to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

NDEP Administrator Leo Drozdoff said environmentalists’ request to participate in the process could have been rejected because it came more than seven weeks after the agency indicated it wanted to complete the MOUs by late October.

“However, because NDEP believes that government should be held to a higher standard and because climate change is an important issue to many Nevadans, NDEP will go the extra mile and allow the environmental groups to comment on the MOUs,” Drozdoff said.

“It is our hope that these groups will take advantage of the time offered to provide specific and constructive comments on the issue of carbon capture and sequestration memorialized in these MOUs,” he added.

Charles Benjamin, coalition president, said Saturday that he was pleased the group was given a chance to comment but disappointed the general public wasn’t given the same opportunity.

He also complained the one-week comment period gave the coalition insufficent time to review such complex documents. He called for at least a 30-day comment period and one public hearing.

“This is a public agency that’s supposed to be protecting the public interest, and the public has a right to know what’s going on,” Benjamin said. “The issue of global warming is very, very serious, and the public is concerned about it. So it’s too bad they’re not distributing this to the public at large.”

Benjamin said he could not comment on the draft MOUs because he had not yet had a chance to read them.

The coalition also includes the Nevada Conservation League, Western Resources Advocates, the Bristlecone Alliance and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

In September, the Nevada Environmental Commission rejected a petition from the coalition trying to stop the three companies from constructing the plants unless they control carbon dioxide emissions.

But NDEP was ordered to draw up MOUs requiring the companies to capture carbon dioxide once the technology becomes commercially available.

Representatives from the three companies testified that the technology to capture carbon dioxide won’t be available at a reasonable price until at least 2017.

Carbon dioxide emissions are produced when power plants burn coal to generate electricity. Some scientists contend it is the key greenhouse gas emission that causes global warming.

“In this case, these three MOUs go well beyond good faith efforts and require real commitments and actions by the companies,” Drozdoff said.

But Benjamin said the coalition has some major concerns about them.

“Are these MOUs legally enforceable and who determines what’s economically feasible?” he asked. “And can third parties enforce them? We’ll try to do the best we can to sort it all out.”

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