Reliant Energy will build air-cooled power plant


Oct. 19, 2000 (www.lvrj.com)—Reliant Energy of Houston said Wednesday it intends to build a wholly owned power plant adjacent the Republic Services landfill north of Las Vegas.

The company is a partner in El Dorado Energy, which operates a 480-megawatt, natural gas-fired plant at Boulder City and plans to build a second one of that size. With the exception of the expansion of El Dorado, Reliant officials believe the their project north of Las Vegas will be the first of the so-called merchant power plants to begin operation.

Merchant power plants generally sell to any wholesale power customer willing to pay the price. The company hopes to start construction next spring on the $270 million facility and start operation in June 2003. Most of the power will be sold for use in Nevada but some also will be shipped over transmission lines to customers in nearby states, company officials said.

Reliant Energy Arrow Canyon will generate 500-megawatts of power, more than enough to serve 500,000 households. Like El Dorado, it will burn natural gas and rely on air, rather than water cooling. Water-cooled plants generate power for less money than air cooled plants, but water rights are becoming an issue in the desert environment.

Other merchant power plant operators, including PG&E and Calpine, are jockeying for water rights that they believe will give them a competitive advantage in the wholesale power market. State Engineer Hugh Ricci, who grants water permits, must weigh their requests against the cost of devoting vast quantities of underground water resources to power generation, as well as other factors.

“We just feel it would be irresponsible to have a water-cooled plant in Nevada,” said David Greeson, a project official with Reliant. “They’re certainly a progressive company and are sensitive to the environment and water concerns that we have in Nevada,” said Tim Hay, state consumer advocate and Chief of the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Reliant will use dry-cooling technology that reduces the amount of water needed for operation by more than 90 percent, Greeson said. The Arrow Canyon plant will use less than 300 acre feet of water yearly, compared to 3,000 to 4,000 acre feet for a water-cooled plant of the same size. The air-cooled plant uses a swamp cooler for air going into the combustion turbines during hot weather. Unlike a water-cooled plant, it will use desert air to reduce steam to water, Greeson said. Half of the water will be recycled for Republic Silver State to use to suppress dust at the landfill.

Greeson saw only one major potential obstacle. Reliant and others planning power plants in the area must wait for the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the amount of pollution in the air in the area for comparison to pollution levels it may find later. Reliant has filed an application with the Clark County Health District for an air permit to operate the plant.

Reliant spokesman Richard Wheatley said the plant will emit only three parts per million of nitrous oxide, compared with the maximum 194 parts per million allowed for auto exhaust. The plant will employ 23 permanent workers but employment will average 175 during the two-year construction period. It will provide about $1.1 million in annual property taxes.

Gov. Kenny Guinn’s decision to delay competition in the state’s retail power market will not affect Reliant’s plan to build the plant, the company said.

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