Great Basin National Park's Air Could Be Compromised By Proposed Power Plant

Great Basin National Park officials are concerned that a proposed power plant near the park could pollute the skies above Wheeler Peak. Photo by JP Shooter via flickr.

Great Basin National Park, which boasts the cleanest air of any park in the Lower 48, could lose that distinction if a coal-fired power plant is allowed to go on-line as proposed just 38 miles northwest of the park.

An analysis by the National Park Service’s Air Resource Division has found that the level of potential emissions by the proposed Ely Energy Center would have significant negative impacts to park resources as well as to the surrounding area of White Pine County. Air quality, visibility, night skies and water quality could be affected.

In a letter to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, park officials noted the clear night skies above Great Basin and warned that air pollution from the proposed 1,500-megawatt plant could cast a haze over those skies.

White Pine County's night skies are among the darkest in the country. Two-thirds of Americans
cannot see the Milky Way from their backyards and nearly all live in places with measurable
light pollution. Dark night skies, for the first time in history, are becoming an extinct
phenomenon. Researchers predict that at the current rate of increasing light pollution, by 2025 no
dark skies will remain in the continental United States. Air pollution decreases night sky
visibility, just like it does in the daytime. Air pollution particles increase the scattering of light in
the atmosphere, increasing sky glow.

Issuance of a permit for the levels of emissions predicted in the proposed project would
compromise visibility at Great Basin National Park and White Pine County.

At the National Parks Conservation Association, Pacific Regional Director Ron Sundergill shared the park's concerns.

"The air pollution from the proposed 1,500-megawatt power plant would ... jeopardize the lakes and wildlife at Great Basin National Park. Damaging emissions of sulfur, nitrogen and mercury from the power plant would deposit in the rivers and lakes, hurting animals that depend on those water sources," said Mr. Sundergill. "The same polluted air that would harm the wildlife at Great Basin National Park would also harm the children playing in Ely.

"The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection must put the brakes on dirty, coal-fired power plants and encourage clean, renewable energy sources so that the air in Great Basin is healthy for people and wildlife."

According to an NPCA analysis, more than 150 of the 390 parks in the national park system are located in areas of the country that fail to meet basic healthy air standards. For more information, check out this site.

(Note: The park's letter to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is attached below.)

AttachmentSize
GRBA-Power Plant Letter.pdf414.87 KB

Comments

Why not build solar? That is one of the US's hottest solar spots.

i lived there for a summer, the milky way stretches from horizon to horizon. it would be a shame for that area to lose the clear skies. the skies here are what the parks are all about.

Senator Reid (D-NV) tried to solve the problem by making the air in the park Class I - the highest level of protection under the Clean Air Act, be he failed. See [url=http://tntrailhead.blogspot.com/2007/12/reid-fails-in-plan-to-increase-air.html

]http://tntrailhead.blogspot.com/2007/12/reid-fails-in-plan-to-increase-air.html[/url]

While solar is becoming an option, what do you do when the sun doesn't shine? Same for wind, what do you do when the wind isn't blowing? If we want more wind and solar there has to be a better transmission infrastructure to dispatch the load around the country where it is needed. Until there is a major backbone grid installed around this country, wind and solar are only part of a local resource plan. Until then a balanced resource plan that has stable baseload generation such as coal or nuclear are currently the best options. Coal still remains the cheapest reasonable generation source but if you want to purchase green energy, many/most utilities offer a program where your increased rate pays for renewable energy. As unfortunate as it is to lose visibility into the night sky, is that more important than the livelihood of the people and our economy? This computer your using to read this right now is a major reason for the increased electricity usage we have seen since the mid 1990's. Conservation and common sense are our best avenues to try to keep usage of electricity from rising but more people and the bigger TV's and more electronics are still going to cause an increase in usage. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact flourescents or LED's. Use programmable thermostats. Get your utility to install off-peak meters and load control devices, etc. There are a lot of things we can do to curb our usage but you can't be a hypocrite first and criticize the electricity you use everyday. Make sure you are doing your part first and then contribute money to companies that are researching green energy technologies. Contrary to the current status quo, whining and complaining are not the foundations this country was built on. Innovation, resourcefulness and a willingness to work together to find the best solutions for everyone will continue to make us a front-runner in developing green technologies while keeping the lights on for everyone.

Anon has got it mostly right. All of us (yes, even Dick Cheney!) should understand that the cheapest, fastest, safest, and most intelligent energy alternative is to "use less energy and waste less energy."

This isn't a park vs. community situation... The technology proposed in this plant is a major problem (not state of the art in 2008--what will it be in 2018?). Also, the energy produced in Ely will be sent to Las Vegas, so the whole issue of conservation becomes even more of an issue. People in Ely need economic development, but should they be have to settle with the something that threatens not only their environment, but also their health (remember Mercury?).

Anon above states "As unfortunate as it is to lose visibility into the night sky, is that more important than the livelihood of the people and our economy?" I find this to be a little specious... Why not ask "What are the ways that we can retain visibility (and enhance it elsewhere) as well as improve the livelihoods of people and economies?"

You state "I find this to be a little specious... Why not ask "What are the ways that we can retain visibility (and enhance it elsewhere) as well as improve the livelihoods of people and economies?"" Of course that is a question you can ask but for the immediate future (which is what we are talking about in the case of the coal plant being built for "Sin City") they will need to have power NOW which was really the main context being addressed. Your question is a long term question and does not address this issue. People will have to accept that coal plants will be built until 1 of the following things happen:
1. Coal is no longer the cheapest source of baseload generation (baseload is defined as a reliable, consistent, and sustainable generation resource to meet required maximum capacity and does not include wind, solar, and many other renewables).
2. People band together and open their wallets to pay more for their electricity by demanding it from the utilities that serve them (really a change of philosophy when it comes to a capitalist based economy).
3. Regulators no longer permit coal plants to be built.

However. whatever utility is installing this plant should be using the most recent, proven technologies to keep emissions at a minimum and if not they need to be held accountable by there regulators who they answer to. The regulatory commission/committee/legislator they are governed by should be your point of contact. In my experience, utilities are usually funding new technologies and installing proven ones as they become available. As was stated before, for the LONG TERM invest your own money in green technologies that seem to have the best potential and could potentially have economies of scale that will rival coal in the future. Or perhaps, you could even invest in technologies that could create near zero emissions from coal. There are currently many R&D firms and universities working with utilities to make this a not-too-distant reality. If this were the case, you could urge legislators to give tax breaks to utilities who install these technologies We could then market the technologies to the largest and growing users of coal in the world (China and India) which would in turn bolster our economy and lessen our dependence on foreign sources of energy as we have enough coal in this country to last hundreds of years.

Regulators no longer permit coal plants to be built.

Tell that to the people in east-central Illinois, who were just awarded a $1.5 billion dollar "new generation" generating plant which is coal fired. The energy companies haven't abandoned the fossil fuel sources, much to the disdain of many of the population. All they know is profiteering, not conservation (which they ignore due to it's negative impact on their ledger sheets and therby their stock ratings) or environmentally friendly energy sources (which their "data" continually discount as impractical, again due to the negative dollar flow), which leaves the people of this nation little option but to take the bull by the horns and fight for our individual energy indepencence. Funny how we have to jostle with our internal suppliers (and our "concerned" government) and not the foreign sources of our own pollution.

what do you do when the sun doesn't shine? Same for wind, what do you do when the wind isn't blowing?

Sun not shining in this region? Oh brother......
Locally, the percentage of available solar radiation received is approximately 85% of total availability, which ranks among the highest in the nation, as in top 2% of the national average. Due to the advent of technologically superior storage cells, any locality achieving a ranking above 60% is highly viable for utilizing solar panels exclusively as an energy source. Few parts of the nation, excluding the Pacific Northwest and the area surrounding Mount Washington qualify as "poor" candidates for solar inclusion, at the very least as a supplemental source to the power grid.
As far as the wind not blowing you have a slightly improved arguement. If one investigates historical meteorlogical data on average wind speeds, you'll find these data to compliment the solar generation "soft spots" quite nicely, since the windspeeds tend toward increasing in frontal boundry zones, which also happen to be areas of storm generation and therefore, politely stated, not as sunny as the desert regions. In these areas the percentages are easily reversed from mainly solar to wind generation units, with solar as the supplement. This is quite a potent combination of power generation resources for use by our nation. But power company propaganda has instilled fear into the American consumer, and as the saying goes, "People are always afraid of whats different". It is this fear of change that energy companies use to keep the consumer "in line". Case in point.......how long did the Bell System litigate against integration of other phone networks, claiming that if allowed the consumer service levels would be negatively impacted? What a load of crap that was.
But overall, the instillling a fear technique works like a charm, doesn't it?

many/most utilities offer a program where your increased rate pays for renewable energy.
I find this statment of fact to be the most telling statement of all. The energy suppliers are ready, willing and able RIGHT NOW to grant us our wish, provided that WE foot the bill. That speaks volumes about many topics...
a) the technology for delivery of alternate sources is not only available, but in place
b) it is proven to be reliable, since they wouldn't dare compromise their networks with "experimental" sources
c) they basically refuse to change, though they readily could
d) the whores are running the bordello, since the only issue we're haggling about is price for services rendered
e) IT'S TIME FOR MASSIVE CHANGE

All of our national energy generators, from Big Oil to utilities believe they have the American consumer bent over the table. And NOTHING will be changed until we, in unison demand it. The REAL power within this economy lies with the consumer, since nothing can be traded that there is no market to support. But as long as we permit, or encouage there behavior and support them with our habits, expect nothing from them and you won't be disappointed.

By the way.......are you aware that a replacement source for your natural gas usage lies within your compost piles? Imagine that, totally FREE gas and electricity, right there for the taking.

I'll be happy to elaborate for anyone who has a serious interest.

First of all, I want to say this might seem like I am picking on Lone Hiker but this is directed to all people who mix in a lot of emotion with a small amount of facts when they post an article. We all have our own ideas about how things should be and that is right and good but you better know what you are talking about and the finer details involved. Unless you know how the utlilities operate internally and how the U.S. electrical grid is operated, you really shouldn't make assumptions to motives and reasoning. Get the knowledge and understanding first, then suggest REASONABLE changes that fit the context of what you are discussing. That's just better for everyone.

Apparently you (Lone Hiker) do not understand what immediately means. Of course there is potential for a balanced renewable portfolio in the future but right now all of the references you made are not mass produced enough to provide any stable baseload generation. Solar is a great idea in states like Nevada, Arizona, etc. but no one is producing enough right now to make a dent in the demand requirements. Furthermore, it appears you make conclusions based on your emotions about this topic. I am thankful you are not a legislator. You can whine and complain about money grubbing capitalists but guess what, you live in a capitalist country.

I have inserted practical, realistic responses to your rantings below.

Regulators no longer permit coal plants to be built.

RE: The regulators are appointed by the government and as such the people elect the state government. Like it or not, that is how this country works.

Tell that to the people in east-central Illinois, who were just awarded a $1.5 billion dollar "new generation" generating plant which is coal fired. The energy companies haven't abandoned the fossil fuel sources, much to the disdain of many of the population. All they know is profiteering, not conservation (which they ignore due to it's negative impact on their ledger sheets and therby their stock ratings) or environmentally friendly energy sources (which their "data" continually discount as impractical, again due to the negative dollar flow), which leaves the people of this nation little option but to take the bull by the horns and fight for our individual energy indepencence. Funny how we have to jostle with our internal suppliers (and our "concerned" government) and not the foreign sources of our own pollution.

RE: Apparently you believe that corporations are evil and only have concern for the bottom line. That may be true but in my experience dealing with electric utilities, they have a conservative approach to adapting new technologies until it has proven itself. That's why many renewable projects currently coming online are a private venture and are benefitting from government grants and subsidies (though most are very small). The investor owned utilities are accountable not only to the shareholders but also to a commission that controls how they set their rates. They have to be frugal or the commissions will often come down on them hard by either not allowing a rate increase or imposing penalties upon them which in turn will hurt the investor. These commissions actually limit the amount of profit the utility can make and that is why utility stocks have often been referred to as your "widow stocks" because they are pretty much guarantee you a stable but low rate of return (low risk - low reward). IOU's (Investor Owned Utilities) have to be conservative or they go out of business. Like it or not, that is how it works. However, as stated before, many (not all) still go ahead and contribute a great deal to universities and research firms to develop technology that can either improve current generation or develop newer cleaner sources of generation. Our generation (Baby Boomers through Gen Yers) has an "I want it now, I don't care how much it costs" attitude that really goes against the way we became a great country...by saving rather than going into debt. We have to be patient but insistent as infrastructure (a proper transmission grid to transfer this new power all over the U.S. and Canada) takes time to build. Research the industrial revolution if you want to see the effects that moving too fast can have on the people of a nation and the world at large.

what do you do when the sun doesn't shine? Same for wind, what do you do when the wind isn't blowing?

Sun not shining in this region? Oh brother......
Locally, the percentage of available solar radiation received is approximately 85% of total availability, which ranks among the highest in the nation, as in top 2% of the national average. Due to the advent of technologically superior storage cells, any locality achieving a ranking above 60% is highly viable for utilizing solar panels exclusively as an energy source. Few parts of the nation, excluding the Pacific Northwest and the area surrounding Mount Washington qualify as "poor" candidates for solar inclusion, at the very least as a supplemental source to the power grid.
As far as the wind not blowing you have a slightly improved arguement. If one investigates historical meteorlogical data on average wind speeds, you'll find these data to compliment the solar generation "soft spots" quite nicely, since the windspeeds tend toward increasing in frontal boundry zones, which also happen to be areas of storm generation and therefore, politely stated, not as sunny as the desert regions. In these areas the percentages are easily reversed from mainly solar to wind generation units, with solar as the supplement. This is quite a potent combination of power generation resources for use by our nation. But power company propaganda has instilled fear into the American consumer, and as the saying goes, "People are always afraid of whats different". It is this fear of change that energy companies use to keep the consumer "in line". Case in point.......how long did the Bell System litigate against integration of other phone networks, claiming that if allowed the consumer service levels would be negatively impacted? What a load of crap that was.
But overall, the instillling a fear technique works like a charm, doesn't it?

RE:
All of your info is fine and dandy, but the transmission grid is not set up that way currently. If you have worked for or have been involved with the operations of a transmission grid, you would understand that. Sure, the sun may shine most of the time but currently there is no one who manufactures battery banks large enough and cheaply enough that would keep it even feasible to implement a solar baseload system. Once again, infrastructure and investment become the issue. Products have to be produced...they don't just fall out of the air. So to recap, no products available to make your suggestion a reality and if you skipped the batteries, the power would not be available and even then how would you get it where it needs to go. Just like water, we have plenty of it in my city, but I can't help the guy in Africa who has none available to him simply by wishing it to him. You need the "pipes" to get it there. The last time I checked, most people depend on electricity to function nowadays and rolling blackouts would not be a welcomed option if you remember when California had them. You are talking about culture change and you can slander all the businesses you want but that won't change the culture. People have to make a choice on an individual level and then band together financially to demand that change. These are the things the media usually doesn't bother to mention and I am not sure why. By the way, maybe you should research the Bell claims you made and what really happened behind the scenes a little better. The government had to hold a lot of emergency sessions to make sure things became balanced in the long run. It actually did run Bell out of business and many people lost jobs on all fronts after that integration took place. Talk to the technicians on both sides who had to work with the integration..they will tell you that many times the system could not handle it and it was a nightmare for them to eventually get it to work. Besides, the phone system had a release as cell phones were becoming popular and offered another source for people. What would be your source for power if the electric grid shut down? It is not currently designed to operate just on a local level. I was not designed that way and would really decrease dependability to the point where more business would move overseas for the dependable power.

many/most utilities offer a program where your increased rate pays for renewable energy.
I find this statment of fact to be the most telling statement of all. The energy suppliers are ready, willing and able RIGHT NOW to grant us our wish, provided that WE foot the bill. That speaks volumes about many topics...
a) the technology for delivery of alternate sources is not only available, but in place
RE: Really? That is a flat out lie. Why don't you go to MISO or any of the other government dispatching utilities and tell them that and see what your response from them is. There are some small units in place but most are owned by private companies or investor groups and they don't add enough generation to even account for it in the load forecasting. Even without adding any new generation anywhere, the lines are running right at the minimum reserve capacity much of the time in many places across the country. Call it instilling fear or whatever you want... it is what it is. We need more transmission capacity and anyone who runs a system will tell you that...even if they don't own the generation source.
b) it is proven to be reliable, since they wouldn't dare compromise their networks with "experimental" sources
RE: If it were proven so reliable and cost-effective, they utilities would be all over it because they are responsible to the shareholders and would love to cut costs and increase their potential revenue stream. With the potential shortage in available reserve capacity, the utilities would love to be the ones providing the service and again increasing their revenue stream.
c) they basically refuse to change, though they readily could
RE: What are you talking about? Utilities have been investing in wind projects so fast that the wind material manufacturers are barely keeping up and building new plants all over the place. Take a look at Florida Power and Light and see how many large wind projects they have put up in the last 4 years...it's quite impressive.
d) the whores are running the bordello, since the only issue we're haggling about is price for services rendered
RE: I think I covered this kind of comment/assumption in my introduction.
e) IT'S TIME FOR MASSIVE CHANGE
RE: No kidding. China and India are gobbling up resources and that has sent the price of all the electric materials through the roof in the last 4 years. It's very expensive to do any electrical construction. China has coal plants that their own regulatory commission has admitted to not even knowing about that are in service. They also have next to zero emission regulations. Are we going to set the example by making sure we use the cleanest and best available technologies. I hope so!

All of our national energy generators, from Big Oil to utilities believe they have the American consumer bent over the table. And NOTHING will be changed until we, in unison demand it. The REAL power within this economy lies with the consumer, since nothing can be traded that there is no market to support. But as long as we permit, or encouage there behavior and support them with our habits, expect nothing from them and you won't be disappointed.

RE: Once again, you resort to name calling. Are you a kid on a playground and is this a way to make you feel better about yourself? You throw in random personal attacks with partial truths...if I remember my Media class from high school I believe that is the definition of "propaganda".
Sure the utilities offer this program, but investment is made after the program is supported, not before. Utilities have to perform load studies to see where access to the grid would be viable and useful. And to be completely honest, interest has not been high enough to invest the hundreds of millions it would take to build the large scale farms we think of. You can't just add a wind tower here and there and a solar panel here and there and hope it fits into the local grid nicely. In fact, most of the small wind farms or towers that have been installed by the utilities aren't even accounted for in the load forecasting that utilities use to determine how much spinning capacity they need.

By the way.......are you aware that a replacement source for your natural gas usage lies within your compost piles? Imagine that, totally FREE gas and electricity, right there for the taking.
RE: Once again, you offer hope but can deliver none. Sure, it would be a solution for a small rural town with lots of animal agriculture. What do you do for the large citys? I agree that it is a good idea with a future potential, but it is only one part of a balanced energy portfolio.

I'll be happy to elaborate for anyone who has a serious interest.

RE:
I would just like to say I grew up as an environmentalist and I love to be outside enjoying God's creation in all its splendor. I would no longer call myself an enviromentalist as I believe people and the peoples' welfare come first. However, that falls right in line since the quality of air and damage we may do to the planet may cause a lot of problems for my children and future generations, we have to try to leave as small a mark as possible while we are here. What we can't do is just shut everything down to make this happen. We have to insist to our legislators to grant tax breaks and continue to enforce legislation that is already present to make sure companies start/continue to be responsible environmentally. On a side note, anyone who thinks they are being so green by buying a Prius is being lied to. The plant that produces the batteries for the Prius is in the middle of litigation because they have been dumping toxins into their local waterways which has killed much of the local animal life and such. You can buy a Honda Civic that is not a hybrid that gets near the same mileage for a lot less and get the increased dependability as well. Feel free to do the research yourself as I have spent too much time on this topic already.

I see lots of NIMBY here. That stands for "Not In My Back Yard."

Having said the above, I too am concerned about air pollution near our National Parks. Too often traveling out West have I rounded a curve and there faced a huge coal-fired power plant. Coal-fired plants don't have to be dirty. I've seen a number of them where the stack gas is as clear as that of a gas-fired plant. The utility just has to want to do it. There has to be an economic incentive -- either mandated by the regulators or by the public at large -- to ensure that the coal-fired effluent will be relatively clean.

Now about the suggestion concerning solar power -- gimme a break. Solar - even on a good day - produces very small amounts of DC power (like your AA batteries). Let me see you use DC to run a factory, a hospital, a hotel, or your home. Get real. Solar has some applications; that's true, but providing large quantities of AC power is not one of them.

Well then, what about wind power? All those wind farms you see in Kansas are there due to tax credits and fast write off depreciation. If wind power had to stand on its own economically it would be a flop.

Folks, I hate to be the one to tell you, but today the best and lowest cost way to produce electric power is either a steam boiler/turbine/generator or a gas turbine/generator (jet engine), or a combination of a steam turbine and gas turbine. Note that the steam boiler can be heated with gas, oil, coal, wood waste, garbage, or nuclear.