Interior Green Lights First Commercial Solar Energy Project on Indian Trust Lands


Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has approved the first ever utility-scale solar energy project on tribal trust lands. The 350-megawatt photovoltaic facility will be built on the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians' trust lands in Clark County, Nevada, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The tribe and project developer, K Road Moapa Solar LLC, have signed a 50-year lease for the 2,000 acres located 30 miles north of Las Vegas. The site covers three percent of the tribe’s 71,954-acres held in trust by the U.S. Government.

The solar project is expected to economically benefit the tribe, in addition to help it power more than 100,000 homes. The tribe will receive lease income and, at a later date, be presented the opportunity for ownership, the press release states. The project will create jobs—about 400 at peak construction and 15 to 20 permanent—and also provide tribal job training. The Moapa Band of Paiute Indians' existing tribally owned travel plaza will also be connected to the electrical grid. It is currently served by diesel generators.

“This is a great day for the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, and for Indian Country as a whole,” said Donald “Del” Laverdure, acting assistant secretary of Indian Affairs. “As our nation’s energy portfolio continues to grow, it is important that tribal communities have the opportunity to harness the energy of the wind and sun in a way that can power our homes, businesses and economies. Today is a important step in that direction.”

The project takes environmental impacts into account. To minimize and mitigate harm to the surrounding environment and ecosystem, several plans will be implemented, including: the Desert Tortoise Translocation Plan, Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy and Weed Management Plan. Furthermore, qualified biologists will monitor the area's natural resources to identify any potential disturbing activities. For instance, tortoises found within the project boundary will be relocated within the reservation.

The project is the 31st utility-scale renewable energy project that Interior has approved since 2009. The achievement is representative of President Barack Obama's dedication to expanding renewable energy in America.

“This trailblazing project is part of the President’s commitment to help build strong, sustainable tribal communities by supporting safe and responsible renewable energy development,” Secretary Salazar said. “Tribal lands hold great renewable energy potential, and smart development of these resources has the power to strengthen tribal economies, create jobs and generate clean electricity for communities across Indian Country."