Interior approves first solar project on tribal land

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has approved a 350 MW solar energy project on tribal trust land of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians in Clark County, Nev. The project marks a milestone as the first-ever, utility-scale solar project approved for development on tribal lands, and is one of the many steps the administration has taken to help strengthen tribal communities.

The project is also the 31st utility-scale renewable energy project that Interior has approved since 2009 as part of an effort to advance smart development of renewable energy on public lands. Prior to 2009, there were no solar energy projects permitted on public lands.

The Record of Decision signed on June 21 approves the construction, operation and maintenance of a low-impact photovoltaic (PV) facility and associated infrastructure on about 2,000 acres of the Tribe’s reservation, located 30 miles north of Las Vegas. The site represents about three percent of the Tribe’s 71,954 acres, which are held in trust by the U.S. government. The project is expected to generate about 400 jobs at peak construction and 15 to 20 permanent jobs.

Proposed by K Road Moapa Solar LLC, the project would be built in three phases of 100 to 150 MW. In addition to PV panel arrays, major project components include a 500 kV transmission line to deliver power to the grid and a 12 kV transmission line to the existing Moapa Travel Plaza after Phase 1 is complete. About 12 acres of U.S. public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management would be required for the 500 kV transmission line.

To minimize and mitigate potential environmental impacts, a Desert Tortoise Translocation Plan, Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy and Weed Management Plan will be implemented, and natural resources monitoring by qualified biologists will be conducted during all surface disturbing activities. Tortoises found within the project boundary would be relocated within the reservation in accordance with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protocols. No water will be used in the production of electricity, but will be used periodically for cleaning the photovoltaic panels.

Under the Obama Administration’s initiatives to foster tribal energy self-sufficiency and advance economic competitiveness, Interior is also engaged in a sweeping reform of federal surface leasing regulations for American Indian lands that is expected to streamline the approval process for home ownership and spur renewable energy development in Indian Country. As trustee for the land and resources of federally-recognized tribes, Interior is responsible for managing about 55 million surface acres in Indian Country.

A fact sheet on the Moapa Project is available here. A map of the project area is available here.

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