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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.)


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=


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 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

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.

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