Moapa Band a Front-Runner in Clean Energy: First Utility-Scale Solar Plant on Tribal Land


Roughly 3.2 million solar panels cover 25 million square feet (that’s 450 NFL football fields) about 30 miles north of Las Vegas. U.S. senators joined tribal and First Solar officials to celebrate the commissioning of the 250-megawatt solar project on Friday, March 17. The Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project is the first-ever utility-scale solar power plant on tribal land.

First Solar Inc. and the Moapa Band of Paiutes joined forces for the solar farm on the 72,000-acre Moapa River Indian Reservation. First Solar, the operator, has inked a 25-year power purchase agreement exclusively with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to bring renewable energy to Los Angeles residents.

The millions of advanced First Solar thin-film photovoltaic solar panels can generate enough clean energy to power an estimated 111,000 homes. Plus, the solar plant will avoid approximately 341,000 metric tons per year of carbon-dioxide emissions that would have been produced if the electricity had been generated using fossil fuels. The Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project will help the City of Los Angeles to achieve 33 percent of all energy from renewable resources by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025, said Reiko A. Kerr, senior assistant general manager for the LADWP Power System.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes will benefit from lease revenues over the lifetime of the project, diversifying the band’s economy while preserving their land and cultural heritage. Construction will also create about 115 jobs. The tribe also operates farms, the Moapa Travel Plaza, a sand and gravel operation and has other future plans for expansion at the Valley of Fire area.

The Moapa Band hopes its foray into clean energy will serve as inspiration and a catalyst to other tribes. “If our small tribe can accomplish this, then others can also,” said Darren Daboda, chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Council. “There are endless opportunities in renewable energy, and tribes across the nation have the perfect areas in which to build utility-scale projects.”

First Solar hopes to expand its footprint in Nevada. “By continuously innovating, we are driving down the cost of solar electricity and providing a solution that addresses energy security and water scarcity. We are delivering on our commitment to build a more sustainable energy future,” Georges Antoun, chief commercial officer for First Solar, told Solar Industry Mag.

U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) joined leaders of the Moapa Band of Paiutes for a Commissioning Ceremony of the 250MW Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project near Las Vegas on Friday morning.

U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) joined leaders of the Moapa Band of Paiutes for a Commissioning Ceremony of the 250MW Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project near Las Vegas on Friday morning.

Notable federal, state and local officials attended Friday’s groundbreaking, lead by tribal and First Solar officials. Among the notable people or organizations in attendance were: Sen. Dean Heller, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada State Energy Office Director Angela Dykema, Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, executives from the LADWP, U.S. Department of Energy representatives, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs officials.

“I’m proud to see the day has finally arrived to commission the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project. The tribe is truly embarking on a new journey while serving as a trendsetter with this venture. This project is the first and largest utility-scale solar plant on tribal lands. Nevada is no stranger to successful solar projects, and this is another great example of that,” said Sen. Heller in a First Solar press release.

“There is no doubt renewable energy is the way of the future for energy sustainability, and Nevada has the unparalleled natural resources to be a national leader in investment and development of clean energy technology and job creation,” added Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. “The Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project is the perfect example of this great potential.”