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Jacobs: Solar plant personal for former town leader

For many with longtime Tonopah ties, the solar energy celebration at SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes plant was a chance to show all that is possible in the community.

That was the message from James Eason, Tonopah’s town manager from 2005-2015 during the solar plant’s planning and construction.

“This is very emotional for me to be here today,” Eason, known as Jamie, told a crowd of around 200 government, business and energy industry leaders Oct. 11. “The reason I say that is because I would have never imagined that this project would be in our community, let alone the state of Nevada,” he said.

Eason linked the facility to town’s economic history.

“To all of you who are new to our area, Tonopah in the Nevada economy is known as a boom-bust cycle community,” he said. “Predominantly, we rely on mining and the military.”

He recalled that in 1980 when he was growing up, the town was a “thriving community.”

“In the 1990s when I graduated Tonopah (High School) and left, our economy went south, and it stayed that way until SolarReserve came back into the picture or proposed a project,” Eason said.

“I’m very proud to say that because I was scared,” he continued.

“What is going to happen to my hometown where I grew up?” Eason recalled asking at one point. “That is one of the reasons I came back,” he said of becoming town manager. “I wanted to be part of something positive.”

Mizpah, Tonopah economy

Crediting an observation to longtime U.S. Bureau of Land Management official Tom Seley, now retired and on the town board, Eason said that Tonopah’s barometer is “one entity” — the Mizpah Hotel.

“If the Mizpah is closed, Tonopah is down,” Eason recalled Seley telling him. “If the Mizpah is open, Tonopah is up.”

“Guess what, guys?” Eason told the crowd at the solar plant. “The Mizpah is open. Tonopah is up.”

In the crowd at the solar plant were Fred and Nancy Cline, who restored and reopened the historic hotel in 2011, which had been closed since 1999.

“Probably the greatest landmark that we have in our community is the Mizpah,” Eason said. “I don’t care where I go in the state of Nevada, everybody talks about the Mizpah. You know what the second one is? This site (solar plant).”

Eason: Solar plant brightens Tonopah outlook

Along those lines, Eason noted that “true psychological impact” a project such as the solar plant can have on a community or an area.

“When we were talking about this project, there were so many people who said, ‘You’re crazy. It’s never going to happen…They’re never going to get the funding. They’re never going to construct it. Oh, they’re never going to even make the thing work.’”

“Guess what? Eason said. “They were all wrong.”

Moving power around Nevada, Nevada pride

Citing many project milestones, Eason noted the solar plant’s vital role in Nevada.

“…We are able from this location to move electrons all over the state of Nevada. Whether you live in the southern portion of our state or the northern portion of our state, we can produce energy and supply it to the people of Nevada.”

Describing, himself as a proud native Nevadan, Eason said one thing that sets Nevada apart is “we can take nothing and make something out of it.”

SolarReserve, working in the desert, “took nothing and made it into something,” he said.

“To me, that is the true Nevada pioneer spirit or ‘Nevadatude’ or what is known as being battle born. You’re tried. You’re tested to your limits, and you overcome anything.”

Through the solar plant, its planning and construction, other job opportunities are being created in Tonopah, Eason said.

“The best benefit out of all,” he said, is “all those people who do not have to leave our community, who want to stay in our community and can come to work right here” at the solar plant.

“That is one of the things I think I’m most proud of,” said Eason, who now works in Reno for Utilities Inc., a Chicago-based private utilities company responsible for water and sewer services in Nevada and Arizona.

Business partners, now and then

Eason praises the Tonopah business owners for their work as the solar plant took shape.

“They stepped up to the plate. They provided services and products that were not in our community. They re-invested in themselves …They opened up new businesses to provide the services so this (solar) project could be possible.”

Among the keys to making the solar plant possible, Eason said, were power lines brought to Tonopah decades ago.

“Whether it was in the early 1900s or the 1980s,” those lines feed the General Moly mine, the town of Tonopah or the Nevada Test Site where power transmission goes out to California, he said.

“It was mining that brought all of those resources here, and the other was the military.”

Path to diverse economy

Eason credits then-Nye County Commissioner Joni Eastley as “instrumental” for her efforts years ago by laying the groundwork for the solar plant.

Eastley was responsible for commissioning an interim study looking at renewable energy as a way to diversify Nye County’s economy, he said.

“That was the catalyst that jumped Nye County, in my opinion, ahead of everybody else.”

Working with others, “that foresight that was there before I came on board, that was really the foundation,” Eason said.

“I would like to thank the town of Tonopah,” he said of his hiring as town manager. “One, for taking a chance on a guy who had zero governmental experience, who knew nothing about local politics or how to operate a town, who had a utility background, and that’s it.”

SolarReserve Chief Executive Officer Kevin B. Smith said Eason’s time as town manager “pretty much spanned our complete start of development through completion of construction, which was a critical period.”

“Because of his intimate knowledge of the surrounding area, and its history, its resources and the operation of state and local government, he was really uniquely qualified to offer us guidance on how to move through the process to get this project implemented,” Smith said.

Contact reporter David Jacobs at djacobs@tonopahtimes.com

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