Energy in Nevada: Tale of three power plants

Energy in Nevada – Do you know where your electricity comes from?

Energy in Nevada – the lights turn on when you flip the switch. So does the computer if you even bother to turn it off anymore. And yes, we do, most of us, have at least some idea of where our electricity comes from. It comes from those power plants somewhere – well, somewhere out there.

Last week while driving along I – 80 on my way back from Utah, I decided to take a look at some of the generating stations out there. It was surprisingly easy to get really close to these big industrial facilities. In fact, at Beowawe my husband wandered inside the control room to ask if the road we were on would eventually rejoin I-80. The plant operators at the remote facility were startled to see him, and gave him directions to Battle Mountain.

Geothermal energy in Nevada: Beowawe Geothermal Power Station

Geothermal energy in Nevada: Beowawe power station

Beowawe geothermal power station: photo Anne Macquarie

Beowawe is one of 19 geothermal power plants in Nevada that provide electricity to NV Energy customers under power purchase agreements with the company. Together, the plants provide over 385 megawatts of installed geothermal capacity. NV Energy also has contracts for another 150 megawatts of geothermal power from plants either planned or under construction.

Beowawe is one of the smaller geothermal plants in the state, with a 17.7 megawatt capacity. Owned by Beowawe Power LLC and operated byTerra-Gen Power, Beowawe started producing energy in 2006. The company’s power purchase agreement with Sierra Pacific Resources expires in 2025.

The Beowawe plant was named Geothermal Project of the Year in 2012 by Renewable Energy World for “the first commercial use of a low temperature bottoming cycle at a geothermal

Geothermal energy in Nevada: Beowawe geothermal power plant

Beowawe is a combined binary, bottoming-cycle and double-flash geothermal plant. Photo Anne Macquarie

flash power plant in the United States.”

According to NV Energy, “Geothermal power is a premium renewable energy source because it provides reliable, around-the-clock power with no specific ties to fluctuating fuel costs.”

The production of electricity from geothermal energy emits few greenhouse gases compared to fossil-fuel-fired electrical generation. The EPA shows no greenhouse gas emissions from Beowawe in 2012.

Geothermal energy in Nevada: Beowawe geyser in 1971

Beowawe geyser in 1971: Photo courtesy Northeastern Nevada Museum

The Beowawe plant did, however, destroy the Beowawe geyser field, one of only two geyser fields in Nevada, when it became operational. Nevada’s other geyser field, the Steamboat Geyser Field south of Reno, was also destroyed by geothermal development.

Beowawe is located in Eureka County a few miles west of the former hamlet of Beowawe.


Coal energy in Nevada: North Valmy Generating Station

Coal energy in Nevada: North Valmy Generating Station

North Valmy generating station: Photo Anne Macquarie

The North Valmy generating station is a lot bigger than Beowawe, and it is powered by coal shipped by railroad from mines in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Valmy is jointly owned by NV Energy and Idaho Power.

The North Valmy Generating Station is a coal-fueled, steam-electric generating plant with two operating units. Unit No. 1 went into service in 1981 and Unit No. 2 went into service in 1985.

Both Valmy units combined have a capacity of 522 megawatts. NV Energy says the plant can produce enough electricity to serve approximately 315,000 Nevada households.

NV Energy and PUCN disagree about Valmy retirement date

When, as required by SB123, the last unit of the Reid Gardner coal-fired plant in southern Nevada closes by the end of 2019, Valmy will be the only remaining coal-fired power plant in Nevada.

The retirement date for the Valmy plant was the subject of an interesting discussion in Nevada Public Utilities Commission testimony last December, when NV Energy argued for an earlier closure date than the PUC was willing to allow. PUC and Bureau of Consumer Protection staff argued that the company’s plan to close Valmy Unit 1 in 2021 would mean that higher annual depreciation costs would be borne by NV Energy customers. Commissioners agreed, and directed the company to move back the older Unit 1’s closure date to 2025, which is the proposed closure date for the newer Unit 2.

NV Energy argued that earlier closure of the unit made much more sense in the prospect of eventual greenhouse gas and other pollution regulations – in fact, they said closing down the plant by around 2019 made the most sense – but commissioners told them that “issues that may arise from future legislation and/or environmental regulations” were only “hypothetical” and should not be considered.

coal energy in Nevada: North Valmy Generating Station

A closer view of North Valmy: photo Anne Macquarie

It appears the PUCN and Bureau of Consumer Protection are more concerned about temporarily providing NV Energy customers with lower rates by stretching out the depreciation period for an aging coal-fired power plant than they are interested in helping to protect those customers – and everyone else – from the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the EPA Total CO2 (equivalent) emissions in metric tons in 2012 from North Valmy were 1,579,682 metric tons. This makes Valmy the third-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, behind only Reid Gardner and the Lenzie natural-gas-fired generating station in southern Nevada.

North Valmy is located a few miles northwest of the tiny town of Valmy in Humboldt County.

Natural gas energy in Nevada: Frank A.Tracy Generating Station

natural gas energy in Nevada: Tracy Generating Station

Frank A. Tracy Generating Station: photo Charlie Macquarie

Tracy is not as remote as Beowawe and Valmy, in fact, it’s impossible not to notice it. Located alongside I-80 about 17 miles east of Reno, the Frank A. Tracy Generating Station is “a multi-technology natural gas-fueled power plant complex that includes 12 generating units. The newest and largest addition consists of two highly efficient General Electric combustion turbine generators, similar to the turbines that power jet airplanes. The exhaust from these two units is then recycled to power a separate steam turbine .”

Peak generating capacity at Tracy is 1,021 Megawatts.

In 2012 Tracy emitted 1,548,686 metric tons of CO2 (equivalent) (EPA), making it the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the state.