Moapa Paiutes Plan Solar Power Facility

Amy Heuslein, regional environmental protection officer for Western Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), left, addresses a meeting about solar power on the Moapa River Indian Reservation as Kellie Youngbear, BIA superintendent of the Southern Paiute Agency, looks on.

By Mike Donahue

Moapa Valley Progress

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) last Wednesday began a year-long public process that the Moapa Band of Paiutes hopes will result in construction of a huge solar power generating facility on Moapa River Indian Reservation land across I-15 from the Paiute Travel Plaza.

Two scoping meetings, one on the reservation and one at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices in Las Vegas, were conducted by the BIA last week to gather input and solicit comments on issues citizens believe may have an impact on and/or from the proposed Moapa Band of Paiute’s Solar Generation Facility.

“The issues we identify during this scoping process will be considered and addressed as part of the preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that is necessary before construction of the solar facility,” Amy Heuslein, regional BIA environmental protection officer, explained during the meetings. “These meetings are the first phase of the EIS schedule that we hope will conclude by December 2011.”

The Moapa Paiutes are seeking BIA approval to lease 2,000 acres of reservation land to K Roda Moapa Solar LLC (K Road) for the construction of the solar facility.

The scoping meetings are necessary, Heuslein explained, because the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the federal government integrate environmental values into the decision making process by considering environmental impacts.

The EIS schedule includes the public scoping meetings this month as phase 1; drafting the EIS and opening a 45-day agency/public comment period in July as phase 2; and, as phase 3, writing the final EIS, a 30-day waiting period, the preparation of the Record of Decision and the implementation of approval or denial.

Heuslein said that while the BIA supports the Moapa Band’s efforts to enhance its environmental footprint and improve its economic conditions, denying the project is always on the table and possible.

Nevertheless, the Moapa Band is optimistic about the future of the solar project.

“We are very excited about the project and we believe it’s going to be a positive force across our land,” said William Anderson, the newly elected chairman of the Moapa Band’s Business Council. “This solar power project is the type of thing that will demonstrate and prove we care about our land, our animals, our plants, our people. We will be more self-sustaining and we will be showing people, including other tribes, that we’re in the forefront of caring about environmental issues.”

Anderson said that when completed, the solar generation facility will be among the largest if not the largest such plant on any tribal lands in the U.S.

Although the entire project will cover approximately 2,000 acres, not all of the acreage is usable for the photovoltaic panels, said Chad A. Martin, principal project manager from ARCADIS, Malcolm Pirnie, the company constructing the solar array as K Roda Moapa Solar LLC (K Road).

According to its website, ARCADIS is an international company providing consultancy, design, engineering and management services in the fields of infrastructure, water, environment and buildings. Its aim is to enhance mobility, sustainability and quality of life by creating balance in the built and natural environment.

Martin said K Road has been working on possible mitigating elements of the project since October.

The company has completed extensive desert tortoise surveys; a cacti inventory, and cultural resources surveys, all of which were found to be negligibly impacted by the proposed solar facility or acceptable alterable, Martin said. The firm currently is preparing an “avian protection plan” that would explain any mitigating impacts on populations of Bald and Golden eagles and Ravens.

“Hopefully we can start construction before 2012,” Martin said.

In addition to the photovoltaic panels spread across some 1,200 acres, the project would also need approximately 4 miles of transmission lines to tie into the electric grid; a 25-foot-wide water line corridor to pipe water to the facility; access roads, and a septic facility for the one or two workers who would maintain the solar farm.

In return, the solar facility will generate up to 350 MW of clean, renewable electricity to provide power to the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza and help utilities throughout the region meet their renewable energy needs.

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