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Site of the nation’s ‘dirtiest coal plant’ is now part of Nevada’s clean energy transition

A decade after lawmakers ordered the coal burning Reid Gardner Power Station shuttered, it has new life as a battery storage facility.
Amy Alonzo
Amy Alonzo

Fifty miles northeast of Las Vegas, just outside the unincorporated town of Moapa, the Muddy River flows through a flat-bottomed desert valley.

The spring-fed perennial stream meanders from its headwaters near the lush, palm tree-dotted Warm Springs Natural Area on its way to Lake Mead. Along the way, it passes the former Reid Gardner Power Station.

For nearly five decades, the station stood in stark juxtaposition to the river; a bastion of steel and cement surrounded by barbed wire, with four towering coal-fired units that belched toxic particulates and carbon into the air while producing hundreds of megawatts of power. In 2007, it was rated the nation’s dirtiest coal plant in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

Once the future of industrialization, the death knell is ringing for coal across the nation and in Nevada. In the push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lawmakers and utilities are distancing themselves from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. In 2022, it accounted for 19 percent of total U.S. energy-related carbon emissions. 

Following direction from Nevada lawmakers almost a decade ago, NV Energy, the state’s largest electricity provider and operator of the Reid Gardner Power Station, permanently shuttered the plant between 2014 and 2017, decommissioning and finally demolishing it in 2020.

Just one coal-powered plant, NV Energy’s North Valmy Generating Station, remains operational in Nevada. It is scheduled to be retired next year.

“We have almost completely kicked coal out of Nevada,” said Vinny Spotleson, chair of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club. “I don’t think we’ll see any bit of coal burned in Nevada in the 2030s. There will be zero.”

Reid Gardner operated for nearly 50 years, from 1965 until 2014, and in its early years, was considered a reliable and affordable source of power. At its peak, its 557 megawatts provided enough power to serve nearly 335,000 Nevada households.

Now in its place stands the Reid Gardner Battery Energy Storage System. Boasting row after row of crisp, white cubes, similar to shipping containers, the site is a nod to the future of energy, storing up to 220 megawatts of power generated partially from renewable sources for times of peak demand.

“To transition to 24/7 renewables, battery is one of the solutions that’s going to get us there,” said Jimmy Daghlian, vice president of renewables for NV Energy. 

Empty coal cars as seen at the NV Energy coal fired Reid Gardner Generating Station on March 16, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Five decades of pollution

For 49 years, Reid Gardner spewed contaminants into the air just 500 feet from land owned by the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians.

In the 1980s, diesel fuel was discovered floating on groundwater at the site, likely from leaks in former underground diesel-fuel piping. Remediation began in 1988 and is still ongoing.

For decades, tribal members were subjected to pollution from the coal plant. In 2013, the tribe, along with the Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit against NV Energy and the California Department of Water Resources (a partial owner of the plant) over environmental contaminants.

When operational, the Sierra Club estimates that Reid Gardner emitted more than 4,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 1,200 tons of sulfur dioxide and 5 million tons of carbon pollution into the air each year. All are pollutants known to cause respiratory illness. 

Reporting on the lawsuit in 2015, the Associated Press detailed the complaints of tribal members living nearby who alleged respiratory ailments from the plant’s emissions.

In 2015, the lawsuit was settled for $4.3 million, although NV Energy and the California Department of Water Resources didn’t acknowledge liability or wrongdoing for the alleged health problems and water pollution claimed in the suit.

“For 40 years, they were right under the crap that came out of the Reid Gardner coal-fired generating plant,” former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) told The Nevada Independent before his death in 2021. The plant was not named after the former senator; it was named after Reid Gardner, a former chairman, president and general manager at the utility company who retired in 1963. 

Reid and the tribe pushed for the plant’s closure; in 2013, Nevada lawmakers passed SB123 directing NV Energy to eliminate 800 megawatts of coal-fired power generation from its portfolio. The bill also mandated the utility develop 350 megawatts of electricity from renewable energy. 

When the plant finally closed, the tribe and conservation groups celebrated.

“The Moapa Band of Paiutes is relieved that Reid Gardner Power Station is finally ceasing operations,” the Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Council said in a statement at the time, describing it as “a source of environmental and health concerns to the tribe and its members for a long time.”

Tribal representatives did not return calls before deadline to The Nevada Independent.

Reid Gardner’s demolition involved removing coal stockpiles, scrap materials, subsurface structures, and foundations to at least 6 feet below ground. Its concrete foundations were broken up, crushed and used to backfill the center of the site; its rebar was removed for recycling. More than 95 percent of the demolished material was recycled or reused.

Exterior berms around the plant’s evaporation ponds, which held diverted processing water, were kept in place to protect the site from possible flooding from the Muddy River, while the ponds naturally evaporated. More than 2.1 million cubic yards of pond waste and underlying soil were removed and relocated to a facility licensed to receive contaminated soil. Hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of soil were removed from other areas as well.

An official opens the doors of the power units at the Reid Gardner Battery Energy Storage System on April 25, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

‘A good reuse’ of a brownfield site

Last year, NV Energy started building the new battery storage facility on 5 acres of the 67-acre site.

“There is room to grow,” Meghin Delaney, NV Energy media relations manager, told The Nevada Independent, although there are “no immediate plans for that at the moment.”

Reid Gardner is the utility’s second standalone battery facility after Chukar in Reno, which went online in 2021 with a capacity of 10 megawatts. The utility also has 605 megawatts of battery storage at a half dozen solar facilities throughout the state. 

Nevada is sixth in the nation for states with the most installed battery capacity.

Online since December 2023, the Reid Gardner Battery Energy Storage System will be used to help manage peak loads in summer, storing energy in lithium iron phosphate battery cells during periods of low energy demand during the day. That power will then be transferred back to the grid at times of higher demand such as summer evenings, when air conditioners are running but solar sites aren’t generating electricity. 

“It provides additional capacity at night when it’s really needed. That available capacity reduces the risk of outages,” Daghlian said. “We don’t have to rely on the market as much for that capacity. It provides higher assurance we won’t have outages.”

The facility’s conversion — using an existing, disturbed footprint to construct a more environmentally friendly energy facility — is the kind of “Smart from the Start” thinking that’s advocated for by environmental groups such as The Nature Conservancy and Sierra Club. The initiative encourages the development of renewable energy and associated facilities on already developed sites such as mine sites, brownfields and landfills.

The conversion of Reid Gardner “absolutely” falls under that umbrella, said Jaina Moan, external affairs director for The Nature Conservancy. “I would consider that a good reuse.”

Construction of the battery storage facility totaled $257 million, but the utility received roughly $100 million in tax credits through the Inflation Reduction Act, Delaney said. Part of those tax credits were for building on the site of a former coal plant. 

Once the site of a former coal generating power plant, Reid Gardner is now a battery storage facility, seen on April 25, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The future of coal in Nevada

NV Energy has just one remaining coal plant in Nevada — the North Valmy Generating station near Battle Mountain in Northern Nevada, which is co-owned by Idaho Power. The station’s two plants can produce 522 MW at peak generating capacity, enough to serve roughly 315,000 households.

Scheduled for retirement in 2025, the utility announced last year that it would convert North Valmy to natural gas. That conversion is slated to begin in 2026, Daghlian said.

According to the utility, its conversion will cut plant emissions by nearly 50 percent, but clean energy proponents had hoped to see the station converted to a cleaner energy source.

While “repurposing the closed Reid Gardner coal plant site to a battery storage project marks a positive step in Nevada's movement from dirty fossil fuels to local clean energy,” the conversion of North Valmy to natural gas “undermines and is inconsistent with their actions at Reid Gardner and the company's stated clean energy goals,” Christi Cabrera-Georgeson, deputy director of the Nevada Conservation League, said in an email.

“It's completely inappropriate to repower Valmy with gas,” Spotleson added. “They should consider battery storage for Valmy as well.”


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