Sierra Pacific Resources executives are resisting U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) call for a national moratorium on construction of traditional coal-fired power plants, such as the Nevada utility holding company’s proposed Ely Energy Center in eastern Nevada.

The company is moving ahead with its plans, backed by state regulators, according to executives speaking Monday on a second quarter earnings conference call with financial analysts.

Reid issued a letter late in July stating his opposition to the use of coal — not only in Nevada, but nationally — for generating power.

“We respectfully and strongly disagree” with Reid, said new Sierra Pacific Resources CEO Michael Yackira. Outgoing CEO Walter Higgins added that Reid did indicate he would be open to coal-fired generation that included carbon capture programs, which Sierra Pacific’s executives said their Ely project will eventually have when the technology and national policy allow for it.

Yackira said the Nevada utilities “still are not self-sufficient” in terms of generation, and this summer they set new daily record peak demand levels on July 5. They also have been wracked by what Yackira called “dozens of wildfires” that have played havoc with utility operations. More power from diverse sources is needed, he said.

“Ely Energy Center is important to our state, our customers and our investors for several reasons,” Yackira said. “First, it will add substantially to our own baseload capacity, while allowing us to retire older, less environmentally friendly coal units. And second, it will diversify our fuel mix that is now highly [75%] dependent on natural gas. Third, the project will include a 250-mile, 500-kV transmission line linking Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific Power for the first time.”

The company is pursuing a federal environmental study and local air permitting, Yackira said. Preliminary transmission siting work is under way, and bids are coming in from major equipment suppliers for the multi-billion-dollar project.

“We believe that building a coal plant, especially one with the attributes of the Ely Energy Center, is in the best interest our customers and the state, and the Nevada Public Utilities Commission has endorsed our plans.”

Can the U.S. Senate majority leader kill the project?

In response to that question, Higgins said Reid can intervene as any individual citizen can, but he thinks the senator is interested in adopting policies that would prohibit new coal plants when there are no plans to store carbon.

“Senator Reid has indicated that he could support coal plants that include carbon capture and storage,” Higgins said. “We are planning to build Ely with the capacity to build carbon capture when it becomes technically available and storage as soon as it is possible do so. There is no technology available yet to do so and candidly there is no national policy.

“We are very much in favor of the Congress acting and developing a policy so we can get on with making the technical decisions necessary.”

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