2nd Tribal Solar Plant Approved On Nevada Reservation

Moapa Tribal Council member Vernon Lee, Tracey LeBeau (Director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Indian Energy), Moapa Chairwoman Aletha Tom and Kathy Weiss of First Solar at the first Moapa Solar project's groundbreaking | Photo: Jim Laurie, Department of Energy

With ground only newly broken on a 250 megawatt solar project that will cover about 2,000 acres of the Moapa Paiute Reservation north of Las Vegas, the Interior Department today announced its approval of a second solar project on the tribe's lands.

The Moapa Solar Energy Center Project will be built on about 850 acres of the reservation in the shadow of the soon-to-be-shuttered Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, and will generate a maximum of 200 megawatts of power.

"Today's announcement reflects the Obama Administration's steadfast commitment to work with Indian Country leaders to promote strong, prosperous and resilient tribal economies and communities," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, in announcing Interior's decision approving the project. "This solar project and these grants also deliver on the President's Climate Action Plan goals to spur important investments and jobs in tribal communities."

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Neither the announcement nor a related fact sheet on the project provided by the Interior Department make mention of a buyer for the power the project would generate, an odd omission. The project's website comes as close as any other document to describing an eventual buyer for the electricity, and it's quite vague:

[The project] will help to provide a long-term, diverse, and viable economic revenue base and job opportunities for the Moapa Band [of Southern Paiutes] while assisting Nevada and neighboring states meet their State renewable energy needs.

Environmental groups have lauded solar initiatives on the Moapa reservation, and for good reason: the tribe's members have long suffered from their proximity to the 557-megawatt coal-fired Reid Gardner power plant, scheduled to be shut down in 2017.

But the Moapa lands are also prime habitat for the desert tortoise, and the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar project now under construction was once home to more than 150 of the federally Threatened reptiles. As ReWire reported in October, the project's Environmental Impact Statement suggested that construction and operation of the Moapa Solar Energy Center Project and an associated pipeline are expected to cause harm to 331 adult tortoises, juveniles and eggs.

According to Interior, the project is expected to create 500 temporary jobs and use up to 30 acre-feet of water per year.

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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