In a move to become a cleaner, more sustainable city, the Los Angeles City Council recently approved a 25-year power purchase agreement for 250 megawatts of solar power from a solar installation on the tribal land of the Moapa Band of the Paiute in Nevada.
The agreement – which will provide 706,650 MW hours, enough power for 118,000 Los Angeles homes – comes as part of a larger push by the city to achieve 25 percent renewable power by 2016 and 33 percent by 2020.
"This is a defining moment for our city's economic and environmental future," said Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa. "Not only will these commitments create hundreds of green jobs, they will further bolster Los Angeles as a national leader in making the successful, cost-efficient transition to renewable energy. If you want proof that environmental progress and economic growth go hand in hand, look no further than today's action. We are shaking our fossil fuel addiction."
Los Angeles currently gets much of its power from the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant – a facility that, according to the Moapa, sits right in the middle of their community. Their Moapa hope is that, by supplying solar power, the coal plant can be brought off line, a sentiment that is supported by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"Unlike the old, dirty technologies used at the nearby Reid-Gardner coal plant, this new solar project will not emit any hazardous emissions, wastes, or carbon pollution," said Reid in a statement. "I have worked hard to make sure that Nevada tribes have new opportunities to flourish and I am confident that this clean energy project will provide a meaningful opportunity to improve the quality of life for the Moapa Paiutes and nearby communities."
The 350-MW solar project is the 31st utility-scale renewable energy project approved by the Department of the Interior, and is the first on tribal land. Before the Obama Administration, there had been no utility-scale solar project approvals, according to Earth Techling.
According to the Argonne National Laboratory, the 55 million acres of tribal land is estimated to have the ability to produce more than 17 trillion kWh of electricity from solar energy. When combined with wind energy estimations, these figures are 400 percent of the amount of electricity generated annually in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory recognizes the importance of this resource both for the country and for the economic well-being of the tribal population. In that vein, they are educating tribal leaders through energy internships and renewable energy challenges to stimulate interest, recruit and train a generation of renewable energy leaders.
These programs essentially act as tribal think tanks, empowering thought-leadership within tribal communities, as well as providing resources, such as the Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Clearinghouse, helps tribes develop and analyze renewable energy plans and connects them with ways to finance their energy projects. As solar technology advances and the installation prices fall, many tribes in the Southwest U.S. are planning on building solar systems in the next five years.
A land-lease agreement is the most common form of financing a tribal project. This occurs when a tribe leases a section of land to a company who provides up front capital and installs the project. Another financing solution is through the use of federal grants provided by the Department of Energy to tribes that have a clear, practical plan with well-documented renewable resources and analysis.
The Moapa Solar Project is an example of a land-lease agreement. The plant will be built on 2,000 acres of leased tribal lands, 3 percent of their total land trust, while public land will be utilized by the Bureau of Land Management for transmission lines.