Heller, Cortez Masto join in commissioning Moapa solar project

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L.E. Baskow

Power lines run from panel fields into the sub station and beyond as seen during the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Commissioning Project ceremony on Friday, March 17, 2017.

Fri, Mar 17, 2017 (1:22 p.m.)

U.S. Sens. Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto might not meet eye to eye on many issues, but when it comes to clean energy the two agree on its importance.

The senators appeared together Friday for the first time in Nevada since Democrat Cortez-Masto was elected in November. They spoke at the commissioning of the 250-megawatt Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, owned and operated by First Solar, about 30 miles north of Las Vegas.

“This is our first joint meeting between myself and Sen. Cortez Masto, and I can’t think of a better place,” the Republican Heller said. “I’ll take this area in Nevada, this reservation any day, to what I’m witnessing and experiencing back in Washington.”

The Moapa Solar plant, on almost 2,000 acres of land, is capable of generating enough clean energy to power about 111,000 homes, according to Georges Antoun, First Solar chief commercial officer. The project provided 115 construction jobs to tribal and other Native Americans, as the cultural heritage and prestige of their land was preserved.

The site has more than 3.2 million advanced FIrst Solar thin film photovoltaic solar panels, enough to cover 450 NFL football fields.

This project is the first utility-scale solar power plant to be constructed on tribal land and has a long-term power purchase agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to bring clean, renewable energy to Los Angeles.

In addition to the senators, officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes also took part in making the project happen.

The group effort was a point that all the speakers made a point to address when speaking on the solar project.

“This doesn’t happen without a lot of people being involved — the collaboration between local, state and federal,” Heller said. “This is what’s important to make sure that continues to occur, so that we have more projects like this in the state.”

Cortez Masto agreed with her Republican counterpart, applauding the multi-organizational effort.

“This is a milestone for Nevada along with the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the first solar project, all of the partners that came together. It is just incredible to see,” Cortez Masto said. “I’m happy to be part of flipping the switch today.”

Reiko Kerr, senior assistant general manager power station for the LADWP, concurred with senators, stating without the group effort the solar project wouldn’t have came to fruition.

“I would like to extend our sincere appreciation to the two senators of Nevada … for their role in making this vision a reality of the city of Los Angeles,” Kerr said. “This has been and will continue to be a beneficial long term collaboration.”

Heller explained that his views on renewable energy aren’t always shared by those in his political party, but he doesn’t let that deter him in championing for facilities like the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar plant.

“As a Republican in the U.S. Congress, you don’t have a lot of people stepping out on my side of the island, to make sure these projects occur,” Heller said.

With Nevada opening a slew of clean energy projects over the past several years, Cortez Masto has her eyes set on the big picture for the state’s capabilities in the renewable realm.

“Here in Nevada, we’re trying to be leaders in solar, geothermal and wind. This makes sense not only for Nevadans — it’s a win-win for our economy and for jobs. It’s also the future of our kids,” she said. “If we can lead the nation (in clean energy) here in Nevada, count me in.”

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