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Warren Buffett to Close One of Nation's Dirtiest Coal Plants in Favor of Solar Energy

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One of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the U.S. will soon shut down, thanks to a well-known billionaire and previously passed legislation.

As part of its acquisition of Nevada's largest utility, NV Energy, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway also inherited Reid Gardner, a 557-megawatt (MW), coal-fired energy plant near Las Vegas. The massive structure, which has a history of recognition among the country's dirtiest carbon polluters, won't be a lasting legacy of NV's profile.

NV plans on shutting down three of Reid Gardner's units that generate about 300 MW by the end of this year, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The remaining 257 MW would be closed by the end of 2017. In all, the company wants to end all of its coal operations by 2019.

Coal-fired plants will soon be a thing of the past for NV Energy. Photo credit: OccupyLV.org

As The Atlantic points out, the utility's decision is tied to state legislation passed last year requiring the company to eliminate 800 MW of coal energy in favor of renewables. That passage was influenced by years of fighting for cleaner air by the Moapa Band of Paiutes, a Native American community that lives near Reid Gardner.

The state utilities commission has 180 days to approve the plan, which would also include a new solar project totaling 200 MW of clean energy on the Moapa Band of Paiutes reservation. The land is about 70,000 acres and has enough to space to also support the 1.5 gigawatts of renewable energy the Moapa Band of Paiute wants to construct through a joint venture announced last year with Terrible Herbst Inc. and Stronghold Engineering Inc.

“This is going to provide a strong economic base for the tribe,” Sandy King, director of renewable-energy project development at Stronghold, told Renewable Energy World.

Last fall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour for new coal plants. 

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

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"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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