Second solar plant approved on Moapa Paiute land

The Moapa Band of Paiutes hasn’t finished its first solar power plant yet, but federal officials have cleared the way for a second one on the tribe’s land about 30 miles north of Las Vegas.

The new 200-megawatt photovoltaic array will be built with the backing of NV Energy and is expected to generate enough electricity for about 60,000 homes.

The 850-acre project should create as many as 500 temporary construction jobs and 10 permanent positions.

It could also signal a shift in the relationship between NV Energy and the Moapa Band of Paiutes. They have fought for years, occasionally in court, over an aging coal-burning power plant next to the reservation.

Tribe members have blamed smoke and blowing dust from the Reid Gardner Generating Station for making them sick and polluting their land.

In a filing last week with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, NV Energy proposes to shut down three of the four units at the 50-year-old power plant later this year and shutter it in 2017 as part of the utility’s push to wean itself from coal within five years.

Power generated by the new solar plant is expected to replace a small share of the generating capacity lost when Reid Gardner shuts down.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., announced federal approval of the new solar project on Wednesday, heralding it as the nation’s second such development on tribal land. The first project was approved in 2012 also on Moapa Paiute land, not far from the new development.

Work on that 1,000 acre, 250-megawatt array is just getting underway. The company building it recently held a job fair in Las Vegas to hire some of the roughly 400 construction workers needed.

The first project will deliver power to Southern California homes and businesses by way of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which entered into a 25-year power-purchase contract worth about $1.6 billion.

According to last week’s PUC filing, renewable energy company Res Americas is ready to start construction on the $438 million Moapa Solar Energy Center as soon as regulators sign off on NV Energy’s plans. The utility will acquire the completed facility in October 2016.

The tribe of about 300 members is expected to benefit financially from both of the solar developments, but dollar figures have not been announced.

Tribal chairman William Anderson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Titus called the new project “critical to the economic future of the Moapa Band.”

“This major solar installation also builds on our region’s rapidly expanding leadership in the development of utility-scale, clean energy generation,” she said in a statement. “We must continue on this path.”

Kevin Washburn, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said: “This solar project is a tribute to the vision and determination of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians as well as a great day for Indian Country as a whole.”

The tribe’s reservation covers about 70,000 acres in Clark County, though only about half of tribe members choose to live on the land.

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