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Tucked between scattered red desert rocks, the Moapa Band of Paiutes dwells on a little over 70,000 acres in southeastern Nevada.

 It’s a small tribe with a population of no more than 311, but those numbers haven’t stopped its members from shutting down a giant coal generating station to protect their health and land.

While President is attempting to revive the coal industry, the Moapa Band has proven how dangerous that industry can be to health. Tribal members suffer from high rates of asthma and heart disease, though the tribe's small size makes it difficult to accurately quantify. The coal-fired Reid Gardner Generating Station sits outside the Moapa River Indian Reservation, just beyond a fence for some tribal members who have had to deal with the repercussions of its air pollution and toxic coal ash waste for 52 years.

“The whole tribe was suffering from it,” says Vernon Lee, a tribal member and former council member who worked at the plant 15 years ago. “It's just bad stuff. We all knew that.”

Coincidentally, the day after the station last stopped operating (on March 17), the Moapa Band of Paiutes launched the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, the first-ever solar project built on tribal land, in partnership with large-scale solar operator First Solar. Companies started approaching the tribe about leasing its land around the same time their organizing took off, and things essentially fell into place.

The Moapa Band of Paiute Indians have formed a joint venture with Terrible Herbst Inc. and Stronghold Engineering Inc. to build as much as 1.5 gigawatts of renewable-energy projects on its land in Nevada.


The first project will be a 250-megawatt solar farm in which the tribe will maintain majority ownership, said Sandy King, director of renewable-energy project development at closely held Stronghold. Excess electricity from the solar farm and future projects will be sold to utilities throughout the U.S. Southwest. The supplier of the solar modules is still being determined and costs aren’t being disclosed, she said.

“This is going to provide a strong economic base for the tribe,” King said in an interview today. The Moapa reservation, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas, spans 70,000 acres and “is more than sufficient to support the 1.5 gigawatts of generation,” she said. The tribe also may replace a coal-fired plant with one that’s fueled by natural gas.


The U.S. last year approved a separate 350-megawatt solar farm, the first utility-scale project on American Indian tribal lands, from which the Moapa will receive lease income. The Moapa tribe organized under a constitution approved by the U.S. in 1942.

Terrible Herbst is a closely held Las Vegas-based company that sells gasoline from more than 100 locations in three western states.

The tribe now leases its land to Capital Dyanmics, which owns the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project. The plant provided 115 construction jobs for tribal members and employs two permanently as field technicians.


The power goes to Los Angeles, and the tribe receives revenue from leasing their land. But they’ve been discussing and attempting to find bidders for two other solar projects with the thought of launching one that would bring that power into their homes.

They have a new revenue stream and are still deciding on the best way to use it. “We’ve never been in this position before or had these [solar] projects before,” Simmons says. “It’s hard to take off and start spending everything we do have because we want to plan and spend accordingly.”
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Responses to "Meet the newest big solar developers: The Moapa Band of Paiute Indians"

  1. Anonymous says:

    So proud of this tribe. We have to start somewhere and any way that won't harm our land or people is commendable.

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