Nebraska coal-fired power plant latest to delay closure

Coal is seen in this illustration. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

WASHINGTON, Aug 19 (Reuters) - A coal-fired power plant in Nebraska late on Thursday delayed its closure by three years, becoming the latest plant in recent months to postpone shutting despite concerns about pollutants including the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The board of directors for the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), a public electric utility, unanimously voted to extend operations at the 645 Megawatt North Omaha plant until 2026. It became at least the sixth U.S. coal plant this year to delay closing, citing concerns about energy shortages.

Coal interests including Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP.O), the third-largest U.S. producer of the fuel, have said the delays bode well for the industry, at least in the short term. It is an open question whether the delays are a harbinger of more to come.

The OPPD board's decision was due largely to delays in hooking up two new natural gas plants to the electricity network.

The company also cited slowdowns in implementing large-scale solar arrays, due to "project siting issues and supply chain challenges, including impacts from the federal focus on solar panel imports."

Utilities say import tariffs on solar panels imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department make it hard to keep up with robust power demand. OPPD is seeking to add up to 600 MW of solar power generation, backed up by 600 MW of natural gas production.

OPPD and the other utilities delaying closures say they will still meet their voluntary goals on cutting carbon emissions and that scrubbers have greatly reduced emissions of pollutants that are precursors to the smog and haze that harm human health.

"We remain committed to achieving net-zero carbon production by 2050," said Javier Fernandez, OPPD president and chief executive.

Environmental groups decried the delay of the closure of the Nebraska plant along the Missouri River, saying at-risk communities often suffer from operations of fossil fuel-fired plants. "Black, brown and rural communities continue to be easy sacrifice zones for energy companies," said Jane Kleeb, the founder and head of Bold Nebraska, a non-profit.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Holmes

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