Ground broken for solar project near Primm

Officials gathered in the desert near Primm on Wednesday to mark the start of construction on Nevada’s newest and largest solar power array.

The Silver State South project, on 2,500 acres of federal land 50 miles south of Las Vegas, is expected to generate 250 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply up to 80,000 homes.

Southern California Edison will buy power from the array once it goes online.

Neil Kornze, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, attended Wednesday’s ground breaking with executives from Southern California Edison and the developers of the array, Arizona-based First Solar Inc. and Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources.

First Solar is building the array and NextEra will own it when it’s finished in 2016 not far from where Interstate 15 crosses into California. The project is expected to generate 300 construction jobs, but just 10 people will be needed to operate it.

Silver State South will surround an existing, 600-acre field of solar panels known as Silver State North, which went online in 2012 as the nation’s first large-scale solar power plant built on public land. That 50-megawatt facility, also built by First Solar and owned by NextEra, sells its power to NV Energy, which mostly uses it to supply customers in the Las Vegas Valley — at least during the day.

The power from Silver State North is among some of the most expensive in NV Energy’s portfolio, and it accounts for less than 1 percent of the utility’s capacity in Nevada. But buying solar helps the utility meet a mandate that requires at least one-quarter of the power it delivers to come from renewable sources by 2025.

Though First Solar’s photo-voltaic panels do not generate power at night and their efficiency is reduced on cloudy days, they have no moving parts, require little maintenance and get all their fuel for free from the sun.

Nevada has seen about $2.3 billion invested so far in solar power generation in the state, most of it in the form of utility-scale projects such as Silver State South, according to the Clean Energy Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that promotes investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy in Nevada and the West.

Nevada now ranks fourth in the nation for solar power production, trailing only California, Arizona and New Jersey in terms of total generating capacity.

In addition to Silver State South, new solar arrays are under construction in the Eldorado Valley south of Boulder City, on Moapa Pauite tribal land along I-15 north of Las Vegas, and outside the Nye County seat of Tonopah. Several more projects have been proposed in the southern half of the state.

First Solar now has five utility-scale solar projects in development, construction or operation in Southern Nevada alone. The company broke ground in March on the array for the Moapa Band of Pauites that, at 250 megawatts, will rank alongside Silver State South as Nevada’s largest solar facility — at least until the next big thing comes along.

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

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