Silver State headed for a green and sunny future


AMARGOSA VALLEY – If you’re looking for Silver State sunshine, this is as good a place as any.

Some small-business owners in this area have been hit hard by the recession, but if developers of a new photovoltaic solar energy project in the area have their way, the future will look just a little brighter in this stretch of the state.

First Solar, Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., met late last week with Amargosa Valley residents to announce plans to build a 65-megawatt project on private land. If all goes according to plan – an event that in itself would be refreshing given the many controversies surrounding renewable energy development in Nevada – the project will be absorbing the sun’s plentiful rays and producing power to sell to the Valley Electric cooperative, which services electricity in parts of the area, the Pahrump Valley Times reports.

Although I’ll always believe that the best place for vast farms of photovoltaic solar panels is the former Nevada Test Site, Amargosa Valley sure looks like a worthy candidate. And the news, recently published in the Pahrump Valley Times, couldn’t come at a better time for the area.

But don’t blame Amargosa Valley residents for scoffing at the idea. They’ve been courted by promoters of solar projects before.

Locals don’t have to think back far to remember the Solar Millennium project, which was touted as a certified game-changer with plans to build not one but two enormous solar energy farms capable of producing more than 460 megawatts of energy. Concerns about water usage were assuaged by a company announcement that intended to use technology that would save the precious resources.

After winning U.S. Department of Interior approval in the summer of 2010, by December 2011 the company that made so many promises went out of business without lighting a single bulb in the Silver State.

At least First Solar can point to completed projects and bigger jobs under way.

Its Silver State North project produces 50 megawatts. And with super-investor Warren Buffett’s acquisition of NV Energy, the state’s largest electrical utility figures to warm up to gradually using renewable energy as projects slowly come online in Nevada.

You need look no father than the 1,600-acre Crescent Dunes project outside Tonopah for a sure sign that the future of renewable energy in Nevada – despite its plentiful controversies, is tangible, if not always practical. Tonopah Solar Energy colossus features a 640-foot-high collection and transmission tower.

Even larger is the project’s $737 million federal loan guarantee and its estimated total construction cost of $1 billion. It is scheduled to go online late this year.

Even those who call the push for renewable energy a huge boondoggle on the taxpayer can’t deny solar, wind and geothermal projects are making real progress here.

First Solar’s project literature indicates it plans to begin construction in Amargosa Valley in early 2016. That’s not exactly around the corner, and valley residents can’t be blamed for a lack of enthusiasm about receiving yet another shiny come-on from another suitor promising not the moon, but the sun.

If First Solar moves from drawing board to producing energy, it will be one more small but undeniable sign that our state is moving in a new direction.

Nevada, despite some painful fits and embarrassing failures, will chalk up another small victory on the way to becoming known as a leader in green energy projects and policy.

But on this sunny September Sunday in Amargosa Valley, it feels like there’s still plenty of time left to plan the welcome party and strike up the band.

Native Nevadan John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702 383-0295 or at jsmith@reviewjournal.com.