Renewables

Alternate power sources getting cheaper, policy group says

By JOHN G. EDWARDS

Nov. 17, 2000 (www.lvrj.com)—Alternate power sources could soon become cost-effective alternatives to meet Nevada’s future energy needs, the governor’s energy policy advisory committee was told Thursday.

“The solar potential for Nevada is arguably the best in the world,” said Richard Bradshaw, special assistant to the assistant secretary of the Department of Energy. “It’s certainly the best in the United States,” Bradshaw said. “This resource is largely undeveloped.”

Bradshaw — who told the advisory committee he was speaking as an individual, not a government spokesman — also argued for further development of wind and geothermal resources, such as the power plants in Northern Nevada that use underground heat to create electricity.

Committee member Terry Graves, noting that many renewable power sources are still expensive, however, asked Bradshaw if Nevada shouldn’t “wait until the economics are there for these (renewable power) plants?”

Bradshaw noted that geothermal plants and wind power plants already can generate electricity at costs competitive with conventional power plants. In the Midwest, some wind plants are generating electricity at not much more than the 4 cents per kilowatt hour cost of burning natural gas to generate power, he said.

“Geothermal is getting down to that level,” he added. And while solar power technology has yet to become competitive with conventional power sources, he said, “We can’t let solar wither on the vine. The potential is there.”

Additionally, Bradshaw said that natural gas-fired power plants can be competitive when coupled with solar generation facilities that account for as much as one-quarter of the output, he said. Terry Page, a consultant to companies that plan independent power plants in Nevada, told the committee that regulatory delays in getting permits were a key factor. He suggested Nevada government agencies, if led by one agency, could cut six months from the estimated four-year time frame for building new power plants.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, backed that idea. “None of us wants to be held hostage for four years” waiting for completion of a new power plant that could increase supply, he said. A number of giant energy companies, such as Reliant Energy and Sempra Energy, want to build generation plants in Nevada. Morgan Stanley, the New York brokerage and investment banking company, plans to build a 360-megawatt plant at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Park.

David Donnelly, deputy general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the committee that these power plants are competing with other users of water. A water-cooled, natural gas-fired power plant uses about 10 times as much water as an air cooled one. Some water-cooled plants need 8,000 acre feet of water yearly, enough water for 50,000 people, Donnelly said.

In a few years, the Las Vegas area’s water needs may exceed the available water supply from the Colorado River and underground reservoirs, he said. Page said water-cooled power plants are 5-7 percent more efficient than air-cooled facilities generally and 17-18 percent more efficient when outdoor temperature hits 90 degrees. Water-cooled plants also pollute the air less, he said.

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