First utility scale PV project on Native American reservation set to start

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Construction will begin in a “matter of weeks” on the first utility-scale solar plant to be built on a Native American reserve it was announced today at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes has agreed to a lease agreement for 2,000 acres of its 71,954 acres in southern Nevada.

K Road Power, a New York based solar developer, has entered into an agreement to lease land for up to 50 years on the Moapa River Indian Reservation to construct and operate a 250MW PV solar plant. The electricity will be sold to Los Angeles District of Water and Power.

KRoad has nine fully permitted utility scale power projects in four regions around the US totalling over 900MWs, of these 25MWs are in operation, 320MWs are entering the construction phase and expected to be completed by the end of 2013. The 250MW Moapa River Indian Reservation project in Clark County, Nevada, represents the company's largest project to date.

Gerrit Nicholas, managing partner at K Road Power, said that the company was in the “final throes” of financing through equity, debt and tax equity. “This is our single largest development, at that size it will be one of the largest in the world, probably in the top 10,” he said.

Nicholas said that investors and lenders were cautious about financing the projects. Indian reservations have the right to sovereign immunity, which protects them from court action over contractual grievances. The Moapa agreed to a limited waiver of sovereign immunity.

“There are precedents for deals gone bad on Indian reservations where there wasn't as clear a waiver. We have a landlord-tenant relationship – there are opportunities for conflict can arise. If they do arise, investors want to know it can be resolved. We spent a lot of time on it. Investments of this size on Indian reservations are casinos.

“We had to incorporate that into the waiver to say look if we had a dispute, we could resolve this dispute in a court in Nevada. That was a significant aspect of the deal.”

The Moapa Band of Paiutes also announced today that it has entered into an exclusive joint venture partnership with Herbst Energy (company related to Terrible Herbst Oil Company, Nevada’s largest fuel retailer), and Stronghold, the largest minority woman-owned EPC in the US, creating Moapa Energy, which will focus on the development and deployment of up to 1.5 GW of Clean Energy Tribal Generation.

“Generating clean, emissions-free solar power on our reservation has long been a goal of the Moapa people, and is true to our heritage of environmental consciousness, respect for the Earth and reverence of our sacred lands,” said Eric Lee, vice chair, Moapa Band of Paiutes. “We are thrilled to be working with Herbst Energy and Stronghold Engineering to bring this ground-breaking partnership to fruition at a time when the nearby Reid-Gardner coal plant is being decommissioned.”

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