Southern Nevada Water Authority to tap sun power

It takes a lot of power to pump water uphill, so the Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to open up land around one of its treatment plants for a new solar array.

Authority board members are expected to vote today on the plan, which could supply about 5 percent of the agency’s power needs over the next 20 years.

It also might not cost the water agency a dime.

The 14 megawatt array would be built and operated by SunEdison, a Missouri-based solar company with offices worldwide. The array will be built on 80 acres at the authority’s River Mountains Water Treatment Facility at the eastern edge of Henderson.

Under the proposal, the authority would buy the power generated by the array for at least 20 years.

Authority general manager John Entsminger said the arrangement would earn the authority renewable energy credits it could then sell on the open market, making the deal “revenue-neutral or even revenue-positive.”

It would also increase the amount of energy the authority gets from renewable sources from 13 percent to 18 percent. Though the agency is not bound by the state’s renewable portfolio standard of 25 percent the way NV Energy is, Entsminger said they want to get as close to that number as possible.

Most of the authority’s renewable energy now comes in the form of hydropower from Hoover Dam, though it gets some solar power from panels at authority and Las Vegas Valley Water District facilities.

The River Mountains treatment plant is already home to a few solar panels, including three that are part of a test being conducted by a panel developer and Sandia National Laboratories.

Entsminger said the water authority spends almost 20 percent of its annual budget on power costs. The reason, he said, is simple: “Water is heavy.”

One gallon weighs about 8½ pounds. To get an idea of the what it takes to move water upslope and over long distances, Entsminger said, go down to Lake Mead, fill a bucket and carry it to Summerlin.

“That’s 5 gallons,” he said. “We can pump 900 million gallons a day.”

The authority solicited bids for a solar array at River Mountains last August.

If approved, the solar array could be up and running by this time next year.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.