Plans to move forward on Laughlin solar plant get approval

A land deal approved Tuesday by the County Commission to sell 9,000 acres in Laughlin to a Chinese-based energy company is the next step for a billion-dollar solar farm, factory and research park that could create thousands of jobs.

With the land that reaches both the California and Arizona borders secured, ENN Mojave Energy can now try to negotiate purchase power agreements with utilities needed to move the project forward.

If ENN fails to meet the job creation, investment and other terms of the land deal, the undeveloped land would revert back to the county.

The terms include:

■ Negotiating a power purchase agreement within 18 months.

■ Hiring 500 full-time employees by the end of 2016.

■ Investing at least $100 million by the end of 2014, $350 million by the end of 2016 and $1 billion by the end of 2018.

■ Completing 75 percent of the development within 18 years 11 months of the county’s approval of the option agreement.

no agreement, no jobs, no development

Everything hinges on the purchase power agreement. If an agreement isn’t reached, there are no jobs and no development.

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, who represents ENN, likened the project’s scale and economic impact to Hoover Dam, which in 1931 dollars cost $51 million and diversified the economy.

"In addition to the number of jobs critically needed in the area, this project is distinct because we’re talking about a manufacturing facility," Bryan told the commission. "Nevada has relatively few manufacturing jobs. What’s at stake here is an extraordinary opportunity for a $1 billion investment in our community."

Laughlin, an unincorporated town of more than 7,300 people, rests on the Colorado River banks across from Bullhead City, Ariz., an area with more shops, services and about 40,000 people. The Nevada Legislature this year passed a bill that could allow the town’s residents to vote on incorporation in 2012, but first the state must conduct a financial feasibility study which is expected by year’s end.

"Might give a woodpecker a headache"

Under the terms of the agreement, ENN must create more than 500 construction jobs, more than 500 permanent jobs. Company representatives estimate the project could create about 2,900 construction jobs and more than 2,200 permanent jobs.

County commissioners hammered home the point that in-state jobs need to be a priority in the project.

"Each one of you has expressed, and I say with great respect, to the point that it might give a woodpecker a headache that you are interested in local jobs," Bryan said. "… When possible we will hire local for construction and for long-term jobs involved."

But for technology jobs, the project might have to look elsewhere, he added.

Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst with Applied Analysis, said the project could breathe life into the Southern Nevada construction industry where two out of every three jobs have been lost. Unemployment is at 12.5 percent with 122,000 people still looking for work, he said.

"I am assured the jobs are Nevada jobs," said. Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who represents the area. "They’re not Arizona, California or foreign jobs. Thousands of Nevada families will get the benefit of jobs created here over a long, long period of time."

The green center project will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion to construct. The 1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility would produce thin-film photovoltaic solar panels with six production lines that would produce as many as 5.4 million solar panels per year at full production.

The Colorado River Commission transferred the land to the county in 2007. Now, the land’s price is $4.5 million, well below two appraisals obtained by the county for $29.6 million and $38.6 million. The County Commission said the project’s potential economic impact allows the below-market asking price.

A GLOBAL COMPANY

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 photovoltaic units of up to 5.7 square meters, among the largest in the world. The photovoltaic panels are designed to create solar power farms that can supplement the output of electric utilities while lowering carbon emissions worldwide.

ENN was founded in 1989 and has locations in Beijing, California’s Silicon Valley, and Munich, Germany. The global clean energy company employs more than 25,000 people, operating more than 100 subsidiaries worldwide and has more than $6 billion in assets.

Officials said they hoped construction on the manufacturing plant would start in early 2012. The goal is to produce solar cells by March 2013. Many of the panels would be installed in the solar farm, which could take shape in 2014.

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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