Nevada Solar Factory Canceled

Not far from where the ENN Mojave plant woud have been built | Photo: Google Street View

A project that would have included a solar power station and a million-square-foot solar panel factory a few miles from the California state line won't be built, its backers announced last month. The $5 billion, Chinese-backed ENN Mojave Energy project at the southernmost corner of Nevada couldn't find utilities that wanted to buy its power, either in Nevada or across the line in California.

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Planned for about 9,000 acres of county-owned land on the Nevada side of the Colorado River above the gambling resort town of Laughlin, the ENN plant claimed in its initial promotional material that it would provide steady employment for between 500 and 2,000 people at its factory, with about the same number hired for short-term construction jobs. The plant would have cost between $4 and $6 billion, and was backed strongly by Nevada's senior Senator Harry Reid.

But in order to close the deal on the county land, ENN Mojave Energy needed to nail down Power Purchase Agreements for the 740 megawatts of solar power it would have produced. In 2011 when the plant was proposed, the assumption was that ENN's power would be snapped up by California utilities seeking to meet their obligations under the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law, which requires them to generate 33 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. But due to both the structure of California's grid and de facto state policy, it's much easier for California utilitiies to meet their RPS obligations with power generated in California.

As for Nevada's domestic utilities, the largest -- NV Energy -- rebuffed heated demands by Reid to buy ENN Mojave's power. NV Energy has only a 15 percent renewable energy obligation, and it's already met that goal. Buying more power from a new solar plant outside Laughlin just wasn't a prioriity for NV Energy. In a rather pointed press statement issued a year ago this month, NV Energy's Jennifer Schuricht basically suggested that ENN take a number and stand in line to sell the utility power. "NV Energy would certainly welcome a bid from ENN when we issue the next RFP (request for proposals), and their success, like all other projects, would be dependent on the benefits, especially price, that they can demonstrate for the customers of NV Energy," said Schuricht.

The project needed power purchase agreements in place by June in order to buy the first phase's land from Clark County. Without those agreements, the deal fell through. As Tim Carlson, ENN Senior Vice President, wrote in a letter to the county, "Unfortunately, the market will not support a project of this scale and nature at this time."

Solar backers might have derived some metaphorical joy from ENN Mojave's location, had it been built: Until a few years ago, Laughlin was home to the 1,580 megawatt coal-fired Mohave Generating Station, owned by Southern California Edison. That controversial plant, which burned coal mined on the Navajo and Hopi reservations and polluted the air across the desert southwest, was shut down in 2005 and began demolition in 2009.

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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