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April 25, 2015

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County to sign off on land sale for solar power complex in Laughlin


Justin Bowen

Laughlin and Bullhead City, Ariz., as seen in 2011.

The sale of 9,000 acres of county land near Laughlin, which is likely to be approved by the Clark County Commission today, represents a small step toward development of a massive solar power complex by its Chinese backers.

The county’s asking price for the land — $4.5 million — is far below two appraisals that put its value at between $29.6 million and $38.6 million. But Commissioner Steve Sisolak, whose district includes Laughlin, said the price is justifiable given the economic impact the project will have on Southern Nevada.

“Public bodies do this all the time in the name of jobs,” he said. “Some even give away land to encourage development. We think this will be huge for Nevada.”

ENN Mojave Energy LLC, the Chinese company behind the project, announced in June its intentions to first build a solar panel factory, then a massive solar energy plant on land near the southern tip of the state.

The company ultimately wants to build an “eco-city” — powered by renewable energy generation with solar energy manufacturing as the primary source of employment for its residents.

Armed with financing for the project, the company seeks over the next 13 years to increase output from 280 megawatts to 840 megawatts (enough to supply about 200,000 homes) and a $1 billion price tag to $6 billion.

Company estimates put the number of construction jobs associated with the project at 462, and as it progresses, that number could grow to 2,944 by the end of 2015; permanent jobs during the first five years would number between 590 and 2,222.

Perceptions of the plant’s potential economic impact on Laughlin and Southern Nevada is highlighted by the fact that sources say U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who visited ENN’s plant in China this year, is using his influence to work out power-purchase agreements between ENN and publicly traded or government-operated utilities.

Even with the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate in your corner, nothing is assured. One massive hurdle remains: finding customers for the solar power.

Officials and others close to the project say the project won’t begin for another 12 to 18 months because the energy plant needs to find power purchasers first.

Obtaining agreements to buy the energy — sources say those companies could be in Arizona, Nevada or California — is a time-consuming, exacting endeavor.

One example of possible pitfalls occurred in recent years in California. The state’s thirst for renewable energy may be the largest in the country, as a law was passed this year for companies to increase their renewable energy holdings to 33 percent by 2020.

But complaints about the cost of renewable energy have grown. California’s Public Utilities Commission rejected a Canadian plan to produce ocean energy in part because its high cost would raise power bills. In May, the commission issued a draft resolution rejecting an agreement that would have allowed North Star Solar LLC to build a photovoltaic plant for the same reason. After the company cut expenses by about 20 percent, the plans were approved in October.

Other hurdles include whether the project is considered an “in-state resource.” Out-of-state resources can contribute only a certain percentage of California’s renewable portfolio. That requirement is behind a Pahrump utility’s efforts to leave Nevada’s power grid for California’s to boost solar development in the area.

What could help ENN in this regard would be a link to California’s grid in the Eldorado Valley, near Boulder City, a so-called “first point of interconnection.” That would be expensive if the company must build its own transmission line reaching the roughly 80 miles from Laughlin to Boulder City.

California Gov. Jerry Brown said this year that he wants his state to become an energy exporter instead of an importer. That’s not to say ENN would be out of the running.

“I understand there are policy goals that we hear out of the Legislature,” said Mignon Marks, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “But there is a certain amount of obligation that can be met with out-of-state sources, even the sale of renewable energy credits.”

The County Commission meeting begins at 9:15 a.m. today.

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  1. Why can't we just sell part of that property? Honestly, other types of fueled power plants would "burn clean", use less land, you know, more unspoiled land, and produce a lot more power than 200,000 homes. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

  2. $38.6 B for desert land with no other use? Some appraisers must still be living within the bubble! And to one previous responder, what "other fuel would burn clean"? Time to start working on a transition plan, I'm no environmental nut, it's just common sense. As for costs, that flat panel TV screen in your living room was VERY expensive 5 or more years ago. With production increases and refinements plus greater adoption prices will eventually stabilize - it happens with every new product. You just have to take the plunge.

    What's the option, no competition for Nevada Energy and their own rate hikes???

  3. Isn't the Greenspuns associated with this project?

    Beyond that, why is a Chinese company involved? The inclusion of a "company town" is disturbing as well.

    We have heard over and over again how US companies are sitting on huge cash reserves, why haven't any of them done this? If it makes economic sense for the Chinese, you would think it would make sense for a US company, as well. What is Reid pulling here?

    This stinks plenty!

  4. Up sides to this project:
    No U.S. taxpayer money is being used to build it.
    9,000 acres that we now get to collect property tax on.
    462 to 2,944 construction jobs.
    590 to 2222 permanent jobs.
    Taxes collected from the business.
    Company with CASH from China now spending THEIR MONEY in the United States instead of the other way around.
    More solar power added to the grid.

    Downsides according to some.
    Chinese company building the project.

    No U.S. company is stepping up making the offer to do this and most of them that do want taxpayers to cover the costs. (Five Hundred Million just lost on the last project of taxpayer money)

    I have not heard anything about the Greenspuns being involved in this project but even if they are, who cares.

  5. All the "up sides" VegasLee posted seem pretty reasonable, considering the USA corporations are sitting on cash reserves and continue to PROFIT by doing absolutely nothing. That's the American way, you know.

    The only "downside" I can see, is that the Chinese are occupying a great deal of property and weild industrial power here on American soil. It bothers me in a national security or Homeland Security sense. This relationship makes me extremely uneasy, considering the Chinese would never allow us Americans to go to their country and do the same thing.

    No matter what, going green is the best thing all can do for our Planet Earth. We need to continue finding ways to live in a way that is sustainable and does no harm, ultimately.

    Blessings and Peace,