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VEA’s solar project to start operating in late September

The Valley Electric Association, Inc.’s 15-megawatt community solar project located north of Pahrump will start operating on Sept. 28, the cooperative’s officials said.

A portion of the output of the planned project will be made available for VEA members to purchase as part of a community solar project. This will allow VEA members to purchase solar generation without installing solar panels on their rooftops and make it more cost-effective to purchase renewable energy.

VEA currently purchases all of the power from sources outside of its service area and has no local area generation and renewable generation.

“VEA’s service territory is in one of the best solar resource locations in the country for photovoltaic (PV) systems, and solar development is part of the Nye County master plan,” Kristin Mettke, executive vice president of engineering and compliance at VEA said.

The facility will include 54,000 photovoltaic panels across 80 acres and will provide a local renewable generation source to VEA’s members.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced the construction plan of the project with VEA CEO Tom Husted at the eighth annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas in August 2015.

The opening of the site was initially scheduled for July 1 but was delayed because of regulatory approvals and permitting, officials said. Final construction and power line installation are currently in the works.

Along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, VEA and the project’s developer, Bombard Renewable Energy, implemented a plan to protect threatened species that may be affected by the community solar project, specifically the desert tortoise.

“VEA performed tortoise surveys prior to any work being performed on the site,” said Chris Tomchuk, executive vice president of engineering and operations at VEA. “VEA hired an authorized biologist to locate and move the tortoises found on the site to a habitat area specifically constructed for the tortoises on a nearby property.”

Additionally, VEA and its partner utilized alternative construction and design methods to minimize the impact to the desert tortoise habitat on the site.

Some of the measures included mowing and crushing the vegetation on the site, selecting tier locations to avoid known tortoise burrows and major washes on the site, increasing the panel height from current standards to encourage plant growth under the panels and thereby provide food sources for the tortoises and modifying the distance between panel rows on half of the site to minimize the appearance of a body of water which might attract birds.

“These changes are part of the research that is being done on the site to determine the impact of the modified design and construction on the environment, wildlife, and their habitat,” Tomchuk said.

“VEA will be working with research partners to determine the impacts of these modifications on the environment and the habitat,” Tomchuk added.

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.

Bombard Renewable Energy, a division of Bombard Electric, LLC, an indirect, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MDU Resources Group, Inc., a Nevada-based company.

The plant will begin equipment testing in early August. During the equipment testing, individual stations at the solar site will be tested, which will produce a small amount of energy. The plant will start production testing in early September.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77

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