Moapa Paiute Indians Harness the Sun’s Energy in Nevada

Celebrating Native American self-resilience via energy harnessed from the sun, US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently green-lighted the third utility-scale solar project on Tribal lands of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians.

Joining with Tribal leaders and First Solar representatives on reservation lands about 40 miles northeast of Las Vega, Secretary Jewell hailed the 60th renewable energy project approved for federally administered lands since the start of the Obama Administration in January 2009.

Harnessing the Sun's Energy in Nevada's Tribal Lands. Credit:
Harnessing the Sun’s Energy in Nevada’s Tribal Lands. Credit:

“As our nation’s renewable energy portfolio continues to grow,” stated Secretary Jewell, “it is important that tribal communities have every opportunity to harness the energy of the sun and wind in a way that can power homes, businesses and economies.”

Secretary Jewell continued, “This is a great day for the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians and for Indian Country, and an important step in our efforts to foster tribal energy self-sufficiency and economic self-determination.”

Harnessing the Sun’s Energy to Achieve Historic Goals

Observing the sun shining brilliantly over the Moapa Band of Paiute Indian land, Secretary Jewell announced, “This is the first tribe in the United States to have utility-scale solar on the reservation. We hope this charts a path for a brighter future for all of Indian country as these resources are harnessed.”

The first ever utility-scale solar project on Native American Indian trust lands was approved in 2012. Now nearing completion, the 250-megawatt (MW) Moapa Southern Paiute Solar photovoltaic (PV) facility will produce enough power to supply 100,000 homes. The power will serve customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power under a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

A second 100 MW facility is also under development with the Las Vegas Moapa Band of Paiute Indians on the Snow Mountain Reservation.

The third, newly-approved 100 MW Aiya Solar Project in Clark County, Nevada, will occupy about 900 acres of sun-drenched Moapa Paiute territory. It’s expected to create around 300 construction jobs on the reservation and will produce enough electricity to power around 25,000 homes.

Tribal Chairman Robert Tom noted, “Beyond these immediate benefits, these solar projects will provide long-term economic benefits that will allow the Tribe to diversify, to grow and to achieve its goals while remaining true to our culture and heritage.” Chairman Tom added, “The Aiya project is a key step in achieving our goals.”

Utility-Scale Solar Plant soaking up the sun's energy on Tribal Land in Clark County, Nevada. Credit:
Utility-Scale Solar Plant soaking up the sun’s energy on Tribal Land in Clark County, Nevada. Credit:

Connecting the World Through Science and Imagination

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s visit to Nevada was part of a three-state tour highlighting the Obama Administration’s efforts to support renewable energy through the US Climate Action Plan.

Announcing approval for the Aiya Solar Project is the latest example of President Obama’s commitment to cutting carbon pollution, creating clean energy jobs, and supporting strong sustainable Native American tribal communities.

As President Obama remarked at the 2015 National Clean Energy Summit in nearby Las Vegas, “This generation of Americans is hammering into place the high-tech foundations of a clean energy age. It’s the same people who first harnessed the power of the atom, the power of the sun; the same spirit of people who connected the continent by road and by rail, who connected the world through our science and our imaginations; the same people who set foot on the Moon, and put a rover on Mars, and probes the farthest reaches of our solar system.”

Before President Obama took office in 2009, there were no solar energy projects permitted on federally administered land. Of the 60 projects that have since been approved, 36 are solar, 11 are wind, and 13 are geothermal facilities with associated transmission infrastructures.

Helping to mitigate global warming, the 60 approved projects go a long way towards meeting President Obama’s Climate Action Plan goal of 20,000 MW of electricity permitted for renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020. In total, they will support over 26,000 jobs and produce about 15,500 MW of clean renewable electricity — enough to power nearly 5 million homes.

President Obama: “That’s What Americans Do”

“That’s what Americans do,” concluded President Obama at the 2015 Clean Energy Summit. “We can do anything. And you guys are proving it every single day, and I’m going to be right there beside you.”

The Moapa Band of Paiute Indians is a shining example of Americans proving it every single day. They are “hammering into place the high-tech foundations” of utility-scale solar facilities that many Americans will benefit from.

Encompassing nearly 4 million black solar panels like rows and rows of very thin flat-screen TVs, the entire Aiya Solar Power Plant will stretch for 2.2 square miles.

Included in the approved infrastructure plans for the Aiya facility is a new electric line connecting the plant to the existing transmission grid. A new water supply pipeline and various facilities for operations and maintenance will also be hammered into place.

Supported by nearly everyone under the sun, the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have assured that this project is in perfect compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Cooperating agencies included the Bureau of Land Management, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Shining Stewards of Tribal Land, Culture, and Traditions

“With these solar projects, the Moapa Band has shown what can be accomplished when we work in partnership with tribes,” said Larry Roberts. “These projects demonstrate Moapa Band’s leadership in growing its tribal economy while producing a valuable renewable energy resource that can be enjoyed by the broader community.”

The Tribe has partnered with First Solar to operate the Aiya Solar Facility for at least 30 years. Two options are also included to renew the lease for an additional 10 years each. Not only will this project provide jobs and a sustainable economic revenue base for the Moapa Band–it will also go a long way towards supporting residents of Nevada and neighboring states to meet their growing needs for renewable energy.

Under a relentless sun characterized by Secretary Jewell as “spilled solar energy,” Moapa Paiute Chairman Tom explained further, “It means a lot in economic development, as stewards of our land, and for our culture and our traditions.”

Fabulous landscape as the sun sets over Clark County, Nevada, home of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians. Credit: Wikipedia commons
Fabulous landscape as the sun sets over Clark County, Nevada, home of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians. Credit: Wikipedia commons


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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.