Nevada approves $333 million natural gas plant as historic drought pressures state’s power grid

Looking east to the Tracy Power Plant, a natural gas and oil-fired power plant owned and operated by Sierra Pacific Power, located near Interstate 80 and the Truckee River between Reno and Fernley, Nevada.
Neil Gilham | Moment | Getty Images

Nevada’s largest electricity provider has been approved for a $333 million project to develop a natural gas plant north of Las Vegas, as extreme drought conditions put mounting pressure on the region’s power grid.

Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission approved the plan, which involves two natural gas-fired turbines designed to address peak electricity demand during hot summer months and prolonged wildfire seasons. The developer, NV Energy, expects the turbines to be operational by July 2024.

The western U.S is in the midst of a historic megadrought, depleting water levels at the Colorado River’s reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Declining reservoir supply has prompted concerns over the future of hydroelectric power generation at the river’s Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam.

Natural gas presents its own challenges. Some environmental groups have argued that a new plant will jeopardize Nevada’s climate and clean energy agenda. The state has committed to a carbon-free power grid by 2050 and hasn’t built a new natural gas plant in over a decade.

More than two-thirds of Nevada’s electricity is produced by natural gas-fired power plants, while renewables comprise most of the rest, according to the state’s energy report.

The relatively arid desert southwest is viewed at 33,000 feet on May 19, 2022, over Lake Mead, NV.
George Rose | Getty Images

Angelyn Tabalba, a spokesperson for the Nevada Conservation League, said in a statement that the plan is shortsighted and would have long-term consequences for the environment and the state’s clean energy goals.

“For a state considered to be a clean energy leader, this decision sends the wrong message to other energy companies and undermines the progress that we have made towards a cleaner, more sustainable future,” Tabalba said.

The primary component of natural gas is methane, which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide but doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere before it breaks down. Scientists have said that limiting methane is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

However, NV Energy has said that while it will continue to burn natural gas, the plan doesn’t alter the company’s clean energy goals or its commitment to Nevada’s carbon-free power grid target.

NV Energy claims the turbines have minimal greenhouse gas emissions, since the units will run only in the hotter summer months and will be limited to operating for about 700 hours each year. The turbines will be located at the company’s Silverhawk Generating Station gas plant north of Las Vegas.

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