VEA mulls building its own solar power plant

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<p>Tom Husted</p>

Valley Electric Association board members are considering building a 15-megawatt solar generation plant, the co-operative confirmed in a prepared statement issued Thursday.

VEA said the project would connect to VEA’s existing electric distribution system. It would supply enough electricity to power 2,032 homes, Valley Electric’s press statement says. Any inquiries made to VEA and statements made by the cooperative are funneled through a Henderson public relations firm, Mass Media.

“VEA plans to acquire power from this project through a long-term power purchase agreement. Several megawatts of energy would also be allocated to a community solar program that would allow VEA members to invest in the project and experience the benefits associated with renewable energy generation. The program is expected to provide VEA members with a more affordable alternative to purchasing individual rooftop solar systems. This supports VEA’s ongoing mission to develop innovative projects and programs that provide value to the cooperative’s member owners,” VEA said through its public relations firm.

During the annual VEA meeting last April, Chief Executive Officer Tom Husted briefly mentioned a photovoltaic program where members could invest, similar to the solar hot water heating program. Over 800 VEA members are already hooked up to solar hot water heaters, under a program where monthly payments for the system under a 15-year payback period are more than offset by savings on power bills.

“We’ve been talking about a community solar garden for six months at least. What they’re going to do is sell shares to people who want to buy them. Then that will give them a piece of the action. It’s going to be on Valley Electric property, they didn’t say where,” said co-op ambassador George Kosbab, a regular attendee of VEA board meetings.

A local tabloid quoted VEA Executive Vice-President of Energy Services Chris Brooks stating the cooperative could allocate capacity at the plant to individual members who want to invest at utility scale pricing. He said it would amount to half as much money as it cost members to install solar panels on their roofs. Brooks was recently hired by Valley Electric after serving 10 years as director of Bombard Renewable Energy in Las Vegas.

State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said Brooks told him during a Pahrump visit Monday that VEA was planning to build their own solar plant.

“We’ve heard that and that is indeed what he told us,” said Nevada District 36 Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump who sat in on Goicoechea’s meeting with Brooks. “I think what they’re talking about is working together with someone building the solar plant. Obviously it will be convenient for them to do transmission if it’s close to one of their transmission areas.”

VEA is also planning the Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES) project, storing electrical energy with train cars.

In September 2012, VEA signed a $61.6 million contract to provide electrical service to the Nevada National Security Site, formerly the Nevada Test Site and a $36.6 million contract to purchase, maintain and operate the electric distribution system at Creech Air Force Base. VEA also joined the California Independent System of Operators (CAISO) in January 2013.

The co-op will also wheel power from the proposed 110-megawatt solar plant planned in Amargosa Valley by First Solar, dba Sunshine Valley Solar LLC. Before the suspension of the proposed 500-megawatt Hidden Hills solar plant by BrightSource Energy, VEA applied for an application with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to build a 500-kilovolt power line from the plant on the Tecopa turnoff to Eldorado Valley, south of Boulder City.

Since 2011, the Renewable Energy Test Center, behind VEA, has been testing solar equipment for a Fremont, Calif.-based company; that power is donated to local senior centers.

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