Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2015

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$6 billion news escapes some Laughlin residents, but not for long


Justin Bowen

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

It could be the biggest thing to hit Laughlin since, well, ever.

But word that Clark County will enter negotiations with a Chinese energy company planning a $6 billion solar-generating plant, solar panel factory and industrial park just south of town hadn’t drawn much attention Tuesday.

People at real estate agencies, casinos, a Mexican restaurant and other Laughlin businesses had no inkling of the proposal, which took its first steps Tuesday, when the County Commission voted to seek a development agreement and appraisals on the 5,400 acres of county-owned land that ENN Mojave Energy Corp. LLC, wants to develop.

“The first I heard about it was yesterday and that was someone just mentioning it,” said a woman who answered the phone at the Hideout, a bar and one of the few noncasino hangouts for Laughlin locals.

“I’m not a big news guy,” said an employee who answered the phone at a local pizza place.

Make no mistake, though, that if the development moves as quickly as ENN Mojave Energy wants, everyone in the town 90 miles south of Las Vegas will know about it by year’s end.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Tony Timmons, Laughlin Chamber of Commerce president. “Anything that diversifies the economy and increases job opportunities in Laughlin, we support.”

The plant — which would be built about 12 miles south of Laughlin, along Needles Highway and just north of the Mojave Indian Reservation — could be under construction by late this year or early 2012. A summary of ENN’s plans said the factory would be 500,000 to 1 million square feet and capable of churning out 2.7 million to 5.4 million solar panels a year.

For the first two or three years, those panels would stay in Laughlin, where ENN wants to build a solar farm capable of generating up to 840 megawatts of power. One megawatt powers 1,000 homes, according to some estimates.

All those panels could translate into 2,000 permanent jobs, which the company estimates will pay more than $70,000 a year. Another 4,000 construction workers will be hired over four years to build the factory and solar farm.

A question on the mind of commissioners Tuesday: Where will they find the workers?

Click to enlarge photo

Steve Sisolak

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who had met with ENN officials five or six times before Tuesday’s meeting, said he was assured that the majority of those workers will be hired from Nevada. The company plans to establish classes for technical work at the College of Southern Nevada.

“I’m as concerned as anyone that the taxpayers get value for this deal,” Sisolak said. “But I’d bet on these 5,400 acres. For someone to come in with an idea to develop that land, it’s a huge boon for Laughlin, for all of Clark County.”

Anthony Marnell, owner of Marnell Sher Gaming LLC, which owns and operates the Colorado Belle and Edgewater resorts in Laughlin, said if the project happens, “this could be a long-term stable industry for Laughlin. That’s a good thing.”

He envisions migratory construction workers filling homes and apartments left vacant by the recession. It’s almost something, he said, that makes “you kind of pinch yourself.”

“Is it too good to be true? I’m very encouraged, though.”

Whether the potential economic impact reaches Las Vegas won’t be known for years, possibly.

At UNLV, professor Robert Boehm, director of the Center for Energy Research, doesn’t expect a direct boost to the center, even if the development and his research go hand in hand. He expects the company will rely on the work of researchers in China.

“I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, and we’d be open-armed if they were at all interested in working with us,” Boehm added. “But many of these companies have their own way of doing things closer to home.”

Sisolak acknowledged that company officials said they would bring their own research team. That’s fine with him, as long as the development happens.

“No matter what, this is going to be huge,” he said. “This is jobs and it’s long, long overdue diversification of the economy.”

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