Idaho Power wants to speed closure of Nevada coal plant

By Scott Sonner, Associated Press

Idaho Power has announced its intention to close a Nevada coal plant it co-owns with NV Energy 10 years sooner than planned, a move that would shutter both units at Nevada's last utility-owned, coal-burning power plant by 2025.

 

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Idaho Power has announced its intention to close a Nevada coal plant it co-owns with NV Energy 10 years sooner than planned, a move that would shutter both units at Nevada's last utility-owned, coal-burning power plant by 2025.

Idaho Power said in filings with state regulators in Boise on Wednesday it will work with Nevada-based NV Energy to reach an agreement to stop burning coal at the North Valmy plant 250 miles east of Reno under the new timeline.

NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht told The Associated Press on Thursday the utility owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. had no comment.

Conservationists have pushed for the expedited closure for years. They say current plans to keep one unit operating through 2035 would waste tens of millions of ratepayers' dollars, primarily because coal now costs significantly more than other energy sources.

"The news that Idaho Power will exit the Valmy coal plant is a clear victory for the environment, but also for Idaho's utility customers who would be saddled with the high cost of operating a coal plant as the price of cleaner alternatives steadily drops," said Elspeth DiMarzio, Nevada representative of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

"We hope that NV Energy will take similar steps to protect its ratepayers in Nevada," she said Thursday.

Earlier this year, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission ordered NV Energy to complete a new economic analysis of the Valmy plant's efficiency by early 2018 after the Sierra Club presented testimony that the current closure plan will cost Nevada ratepayers $30 million or more.

NV Energy provides electricity to 1.3 million customers in Nevada. Idaho Power serves 535,000 in Idaho and eastern Oregon.

The two utilities each own half of the North Valmy Generating Station, which was built along Interstate 80 east of Battle Mountain in the 1980s. In March, it became the last utility-owned plant still burning coal in Nevada when the Reid-Gardner Generation Station northeast of Las Vegas ended 50 years of operation.

Idaho Power officials first asked its state regulators last October to allow them to accelerate depreciation of the plant's value so it can pay off the share of their investment sooner.

On Wednesday, Idaho Power submitted a proposed settlement agreement outlining the "accelerated Valmy end-of-life date" to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. It was signed by representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy, Idaho Conservation League, Sierra Club, Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association and Industrial Customers of Idaho Power.

"For several years, the Idaho Conservation League has made the case that burning coal at North Valmy was a bad idea for Idaho Power customers and Idahoans who breath clean air," said Ben Otto, the group's energy associate.

Under existing plans, one Valmy unit would close in 2031 and the other in 2035.

The deal reached in the proposed settlement calls on Idaho Power to reach an agreement with NV Energy to amend their current operating agreement to "permanently cease burning coal" by Dec. 31, 2019 at one unit and by Dec. 31, 2025 at the other.

If a deal with NV Energy can't be reached by the end of this year, Idaho Power will "ends its participation in the operation" of those units on those dates, the agreement said. It said Idaho Power will file a status report on those negotiations by Dec. 31, with any responses from the parties due by March 31, 2018.

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