The largest community solar plant goes online

The largest community solar project in the U.S. went online north of Pahrump on Wednesday.

Surrounded by rows of photovoltaic panels, a group of officials cut a green ribbon at the Valley Electric Association, Inc.’s 15-megawatt community solar project under a round of applause.

The project is a partnership between Valley Electric Association and Bombard Renewable Energy, a division of Bombard Electric, LLC, an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of MDU Resources Group, Inc., a Nevada-based company.

“This is a very unique project and we hope it will be the standard of future projects that represent a great balance between the environment and the community along with renewable energy,” said Bo Balzar, division manager of solar at Bombard Renewable Energy.

The solar panels will provide the energy to power approximately 35,000 homes each year and offset 550,000 metric tons of greenhouses gases, Balzar said.

“That’s the equivalent of planting nearly 14 million mature trees and saving over 400 million gallons of water compared to some of the traditional power sources,” he said.

Kristin Mettke, executive vice president of engineering and compliance at VEA said the power from the site will be connected directly to VEA’s power system.

“The power from the site is going to directly be connected to VEA’s power system and all of the power that is produced here will be used by VEA’s members. We are not selling this to another utility or off-grid,” Mettke said.

Under the program, the output from the project will be available for all VEA members at a lower price than their current electric rates. The program will be available to VEA members later this year, according to VEA’s press release.

The site was previously a habitat of the Mojave Desert tortoise. Valley Electric and Bombard Renewable Energy conducted a number of initiatives to mitigate the impacts on the desert tortoise.

During the construction, officials didn’t grade the site except for the middle, allowing photovoltaic panels to follow the natural contour. Officials also raised the panel height and put the panels further apart.

“This was all done to see if we can return vegetation and the desert tortoise back to this site. So next spring, we will be bringing the tortoises who are in our care right now back to this site and monitoring them and see if they want to stay,” Mettke said.

Under contract with Bombard Renewable Energy, VEA will purchase the power from the project for 30 years. The contract includes the cost to build, maintain and operate the plant at the 30-year rates.

“As part of this agreement with Bombard, we entered into a fixed rate power purchase agreement,” Mettke said. “Bombard will be the operator of the plant and we are going to be buying the power. It’s one of the lowest price solar energy contracts in the nation to date. This will help VEA provide low-cost renewable energy to our members and also help to assure rate stability.”

Angela Dykema, director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy said the project represents nearly a 10-to-1 return on Nevada’s investment.

“In November of 2016, our office awarded a three-year sales and use tax abatement along with a 20-year property tax incentive worth over $4 million,” Dykema said. “In return, the state of Nevada stands to gain more than $43 million from the capital investment by the facility, the property taxes paid, the school support taxes, as well as the jobs and employee payroll.”

The plant consists of 54,000 photovoltaic panels and occupies over 80 acres.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com

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