“The race is on to get into solar projects in Nevada,” said Chris King, energy analyst for a Wall Street investment advisory company. “The time is right, the political climate is right, and who knows when it may all change.”
Those statements echoed the announcement by Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, that the federal government has approved a 350 megawatt solar energy project on tribal land on the nearby Moapa Indian Reservation, only 35 miles from Mesquite. “This project marks a milestone of the first-ever utility scale solar project approved for tribal lands intended to strengthen tribal communities,” said Salazar.
The project is the 31st utility scale renewable energy project the Interior Department has approved since 2009. Prior to 2009, there were no energy projects permitted on public lands.
“Tribal lands hold great renewable energy potential which will fortify tribal economies, create jobs and provide clean energy all across these communities,” said Salazar.
The Moapa project is expected to create 400 jobs in the construction phase and 15-20 permanent jobs. Built by K Road Solar, a national solar company, the project will be completed in three phases of 100-150 megawatts using photovoltaic (PV) panel arrays, a 500 kilovolt transmission line to deliver power to the grid, and a 12 kilovolt transmission line to power the existing Moapa Travel Plaza during phase one.
“As part of our negotiations with the tribe, we will provide job opportunities, IBEW union jobs and training in solar energy for tribal members interested in working on this project,” said Sean Gallagher of K Road Solar. “Receiving approval is only the first step. Now we will work on power purchase agreements, details on grid connections, and lining up a work force to complete this project. We are very exciting to be involved with the Moapa Indian tribe.”
The project will create enough energy to power 100,000 homes and will generate lease income and revenue over the initial 50 year term.
The announcement comes on the heels of the conflict raging between the tribe and NV Energy over the coal powered Reid Gardner plant near the tribal lands. Residents of the reservation have long complained the plant spews large amounts of coal ash from its huge smokestacks that have caused countless health problems and premature deaths of tribal members. NV Energy denies those allegations and says it has installed emission controls that captures 99% of all particulate emissions.
“The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing all public comments and the issues in this complaint and will be making a determinations soon,” said Margot Perez-Sullivan of the E.P.A.
Using coal to operate power plants was the main reason for the downfall of the Toquop Power Project outside of Mesquite when environmental activists successfully objected to the possible health dangers.
Another solar project was to be built on Lincoln County land on the border of Mesquite on Flat Top Mesa but the downturn in the economy scuttled that project.
However, all around Southern Nevada solar and other renewable energy projects are booming. Just down the road from the Moapa Reservation in Lincoln County, an oasis in the desert seemingly in the middle of nowhere, sporting a new housing development, schools, a world class golf course and future solar power plant, Coyote Springs plans a solar thermal energy project on private property that could generate up to 600 megawatts of power. Other projects are either in progress or completed in Searchlight, Laughlin, Boulder City, Nellis Air Force Base, Primm and the Las Vegas Water District to name a few.
“Our solar lease revenue has helped us maintain excellent levels of city services and programs during a very difficult economic time,” said Mayor Roger Tobler of Boulder City. “In addition to clean energy, Boulder City will receive stable revenue for decades to come.” The city receives approximately $12 million dollars a year from lease payments, including $9 million in upfront payments, plus the creation of an estimated 3,000 jobs.
“Native Americans love their land and they want to use their land and their natural resources the best way possible and that could be to look to the future with solar power,” said John James, a Native American energy expert. “The future is now and the future is solar.”
“We are very excited about this project and we believe it will be a positive force across our land,” said William Anderson, Chairman of the Moapa Tribal Council. “Solar Power will demonstrate and prove we care about our land, our animals, our plants and our people. We will be more self-sustaining and will show other people, including other tribes, that we are in the forefront of caring about environmental issues.”
K Road Solar is currently developing additional projects on Indian Reservations in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. A spokesman for the company was asked if he was aware if any solar companies had ever looked at Mesquite for solar projects to which he replied, “it doesn't appear as though Mesquite is actively pursuing any renewable energy projects. We are not sure why.”
Delmar Latham, General Manager for Overton Power District, explained that the policies of Overton Power are to purchase resources for the long term to insure adequate supply. “We have purchased resources through 2017. To bring in a new power resource would displace existing resources. The earliest we could bring in an existing resource is January 1, 2018.”
The Moapa Indian Reservation solar project may have an impact on the conflict with Nevada Energy's Reid Gardner coal powered plant. Tribal members say they will not give up the fight to have the plant closed down.