Coal in Their Christmas Stocking: NV Power Commission Rejects Moapa Paiute Solar Project

Public Utilities Commission of Nevada turned down the Moapa Paiute's second solar project on its reservation, citing lack of financials.
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The Moapa Paiute Tribe in Nevada got a monkey wrench for Christmas this year, when the state power commission stymied plans for its second solar project. But the small tribe is undaunted and says it will regroup after the first of the year.

The 322-member tribe has been collaborating with environmental groups, the labor lobby and NV Energy, a major electric utility, to push through a solar project on the reservation.

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The Moapa Solar Project is slated to replace up to 200 MW of power that will be lost as the NV Energy-owned Reid Gardner Generating Station, just off the reservation, is decommissioned. The tribe would lease an 850-acre tract for the project to RES Americas, a Colorado-based renewable energy company, which would build the facility. The tribe will also benefit from numerous jobs—hundreds during construction and a couple of dozen at completion, said Tribal Chairman Darren Daboda. In addition, the project will help the tribe use water rights that are otherwise subject to forfeiture.

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But the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada declined to approve plans for the project for a second time on December 17, citing staff concerns about unclear financial details.

“The Commission is not precluding the Moapa project or any another solar project from being considered but the Commission needs more information, including information about job creation and economic benefits,” said commission spokesperson Peter Kostes. As a next step, NV Energy, the proposal’s primary author, must either update its plan to satisfy the commission or go through a more rigorous process to request bids.

Environmentalists who favor the project expressed frustration with the decision.

“We believed NV Energy addressed the concerns,” said Marta Stoepker, a Sierra Club spokesperson and a supporter of the solar project. “The commission keeps on asking for more specifics. But it’s cost-competitive. It’s low-cost, renewable energy. We don’t understand why they keep asking for things.”

But Daboda is optimistic. He said Moapa Paiute leadership will meet with NV Energy and RES Americas early in 2015 to address the commission’s concerns.

The Moapa Paiute have plans for six solar projects, including this one and another that is nearing completion. Daboda hopes the solar installations will obviate the need to replace the coal plant with a gas plant, as has been proposed.

“If we can get our solar project up and going within six years, I think we can hopefully have this facility shut down next to us,” he said. “We’ve been breathing dirty air for 30 years. As stewards of the land, I think it’s great to showcase to other reservations that we’re looking at renewable energy.”

Right now, he said, the tribe’s economic mainstay is a truck stop “on steroids” called the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza, 30 miles north of Las Vegas on Interstate 15. The stop includes a casino, convenience store, cafe, gas station and a celebrated selection of fireworks. But it also runs on a combination of generators and solar units. Once the solar projects go online, the truck stop can be connected to the grid.

The Moapa Solar Project was approved last May as part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, meant to help tribes and other communities both cope with climate change and work to mitigate it.

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