A proposed solar farm and factory that would create 2,000 manufacturing jobs and 4,000 construction jobs received an enthusiastic "Go!" Tuesday from Clark County commissioners, who asked that land south of Laughlin be appraised for possible sale to a Chinese company.
ENN Mojave Energy Corp. seeks to build a plant and massive solar farm on 5,400 acres that supporters tout as vital to diversifying Southern Nevada's depressed economy and cementing the state as a renewable energy hub.
The plant would stand on 400 acres, and a solar panel farm would take up the remaining 5,100 acres between Needles Highway and the Colorado River. It would be positioned to supply renewable power to California.
The project would cost an estimated $4 billion to $6 billion.
"I'd like to move as rapidly as we can on this," Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. "Right now, we don't manufacture much."
An appraisal is required for the county to sell the land below fair market value as an incentive for ENN to build. The project also must qualify as something that boosts the area's economic development, which Sisolak said it obviously does.
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani suggested the county shouldn't rule out leasing the land.
She also wants to ensure that at least half the workers hired for the project are based in Nevada. And she would prefer that they come from all parts of the county, and not just from the Laughlin area.
But Nevada's labor pool can't be expected to supply the workers with specialized technical skills, said Richard Bryan, a former Nevada governor and U.S. senator, who was representing ENN.
Giunchigliani, though, insisted that residents could fill most of the jobs, such as electricians and assembly workers.
Sisolak added that local employment centers and trade schools could train people in the necessary skills.
ENN Solar Energy, the parent company, makes high-performance solar modules and provides energy services for an expanding global market, according to the company's website.
It can produce photo voltaic units of up to 5.7 square meters, among the largest in the world.
The photo voltaic panels are designed to create solar power farms that can supplement the output of electric utilities while lowering carbon emissions worldwide, the website said.
ENN had $3.7 billion in revenue and $6.1 billion in assets, according to company documents.
Commissioner Mary Beth Scow asked whether ENN had signed any agreements with California power companies for selling them electricity.
Bryan replied that a power-generation site must be established first.
Scow said this was "a wonderful project" that could benefit Laughlin and the county as a whole, but the county must make sure it will be the best use of the land.
"We need to protect the taxpayers' interest," Scow said.
The land is part of 9,000 acres that the Colorado River Commission transferred to the county in 2007. An "outdated" patent encumbers the solar plant's development because the prescribed uses for the land don't include renewable energy.
The federal government must approve changing the guidelines, Bryan said, adding that he was confident that U.S. Senate Majority Harry Reid of Nevada, who supports this project, will shepherd through the revisions.
Construction could start late this year. If built, the plant could produce as many as 3 million to 5 million solar panels a year starting in 2013.
Many of the panels would be installed in the solar farm, which could start taking shape in 2014.
The county could help cover the costs of building the infrastructure by tapping a $12 million fund set up to aid Laughlin in developing, Sisolak said.
Jordan Ross, Laughlin's constable, said the project has drawn strong local support, partly for the jobs it would create and partly because it would expand the town's tax base.
All of that will help in the effort to make Laughlin an independent city, Ross said.
The Legislature this year passed a bill that could allow the town's residents to vote on incorporation in 2012. But first the state must do a financial feasibility study.
Ross said normally he would expect a developer to pay the total costs of a project. In this case, he and other townspeople would back ENN using a reasonable amount of the development fund to build infrastructure, he said.
"Especially infrastructure that will benefit the community, long-term, anyway," Ross said.
Contact reporter Scott Wyland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-455-4519.