Solar energy forecast mixed for Nevada

ENN Mojave Energy representatives talked big, selling Clark County officials on the China-based company’s ability to deliver the goods on plans to build a solar energy plant on 9,000 acres of county-owned land near Laughlin.

The aggressive goal of obtaining a power purchase agreement within 18 months didn’t happen, scuttling plans that would have brought a solar photovoltaic power plant and factory with the potential of 2,222 permanent jobs. Now, the question remains: How much potential is there for future utility-scale solar energy projects in sunny Southern Nevada?

The verdict is mixed. Nationwide, utility-scale solar projects continue to grow. But for all of its sunshine, Nevada ranks low among states in its appeal, according to a national report compiled by GTM Media and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

In that report, Nevada’s market attractiveness put the Silver State as the fourth-lowest nationwide, well behind cloudier states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts. That study looked at factors such as the solar resources, state incentives and geography.

But that could change.

“We’ve always looked at Nevada as a large opportunity for solar,” said Thomas Kimbis, a vice president for Solar Energy Industries Association. “Everything is coming together for Nevada to become a true solar leader.”

Warren Buffett’s Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. announced plans in May to buy NV Energy. Buffett’s company is known for its emphasis on renewable energy.

“You’ve seen him take a very progressive stance toward renewables,” Kimbis said.

A spokeswoman for NV Energy didn’t return calls for comment.

In ENN’s case, its letter to the county said the market couldn’t support the project at this time.

It also had less than two years to get a power purchase agreement in hand.

Kimbis said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of that situation, noting several factors are in play that vary from project to project.

Those conditions involve the utility, the location and the financing.

But in general, as the solar energy industry has grown, the length of time to forge agreements has shortened as financial backers become more familiar with it, he said.

“In general, we’re seeing what used to take maybe two years being done in half that time or a fraction of that time,” he said.

Solar development continues elsewhere in Southern Nevada. Construction is tentatively slated to start in July on the K Road Moapa Solar project, on the Moapa River Indian Reservation.

The 250-megawatt project will provide power for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The project, the first of its kind nationwide to be on a reservation, has a good transmission network. It ties in directly to the California utility’s transmission line, which means the power from the Nevada plant will go toward meeting that state’s required quotas for renewable energy.

“The power will count as if it were being produced in California,” said Sean Gallagher, managing director of government relations for K Road Power, the San Francisco-based energy developer.

As for the future, Gallagher pointed to the Nevada Legislature’s passage of legislation for NV Energy that calls closing the Reid Gardner power plant near Glendale and replacing it with renewable energy.

In the long term, that may pave the road for future solar growth in Nevada, he said.

There are additional considerations too, said Bob Boehm, director of the Energy Research Center at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

A large chunk of the state is owned by the federal government, which adds another layer of complications to navigate, he said. Also noting Buffett’s investment in NV Energy, Boehm said it will be interesting to see how that aids the utility’s renewable efforts.

Statewide, applications for 1,129.8 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power were filed with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission planned for 2012 to 2017. That is more than landfill gas, wind and geothermal applications combined.

“We’re going to see a lot more solar power generated,” Boehm said.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.