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UPDATE 09/29/16 - Guest Blog: VEA's Community Solar Project Has Pahrump Valley Buzzing

by Chris Brooks, Executive Vice President of Energy Services
Valley Electric Association

UPDATE: Valley Electric Association's Community Solar Project Completes Construction

On Sept. 28, Valley Electric Association (VEA) held a grand opening for their 15-megawatt community solar project in the Pahrump Valley.

A partnership between VEA, Bombard Renewable Energy and Nevada Valley Solar Solutions, this project is unique in that it allows the electrical co-op's members to purchase renewable energy at cheaper rates than their current rates without signing a lease or installing any panels on their rooftops. 

The construction of the somewhat crooked solar arrays integrated considerable envrionmental planning so as not to disturb wildlife. VEA left much of the existing topography, such as the root structures of plants and desert tortoise burrows, largely intact, thus resulting in the slightly uneven panels. This innovative project will result in the reduction of 563,637 metric tons of greenhouse gases.

Scroll down for a full environmental analysis.

[ORIGINAL POST]

This year’s National Clean Energy Summit featured many big names, including U.S. Senator Harry Reid, Brandon Flowers, and the biggest of them all, President Barack Obama. But even against the backdrop of all that star power, Valley Electric Association (VEA) was honored to have its new, innovative 15-megawatt community solar project featured during the Summit’s morning press briefing as a model for future solar projects.

As an electric cooperative founded 50 years ago by the people of rural southwestern Nevada, VEA realized long ago that innovation was the key to offering reliable and reasonably priced electrical service across its large and diverse service territory. 

VEA adopted a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system in 1990 and a fully automated meter reading system in 1999. In 2013, VEA became the first non-California utility to join the California Independent System Operator Corporation (CAISO) balancing authority.  

VEA’s new community solar project follows its tradition of innovation; one of its most notable innovations is cost.  The fixed-rate power purchase agreement VEA signed with Nevada Valley Solar Solutions I, LLC, an indirect subsidiary of MDU Resources Group, Inc.—the company managing the plant—will provide some of the lowest-priced solar energy in the nation.  That means VEA’s members can purchase renewable energy at a rate cheaper than their current rates without signing a lease or installing anything on their homes.

The plant’s construction is also unique. VEA is committed to the people and communities it serves; the plant will be built using Nevada union labor and American-made photovoltaic panels, inverters and steel.

In addition, VEA is working closely with state and federal agencies, ensuring that desert plants and animals are protected. All the desert tortoises living on the 80-acre site will be relocated to a temporary habitat during construction and moved back once the plant is complete. The fence around the plant will have regularly spaced openings, so tortoises and other small animals can move freely in and out of the area.

In most construction projects, all the plants and rocks are scraped off the site. For this project, VEA will leave much of the existing topography, as well as the roots and seed structures of plants, largely intact. Then, the solar arrays of the plant will be built higher than usual, providing additional room and sunlight so the plants can regrow.

Our design addresses another environmental issue. To birds, the large mass of blue solar arrays can look like a lake or a pond.  When the birds try to land on the “water”, they can die.  In one section of VEA’s plant, the arrays will be spaced apart in order to break up this visual effect, and scientists will conduct studies to determine if this design helps this potential problem.

The common thinking about renewable energy is you can’t protect the environment or use American workers and materials to build the plants while still producing energy at a reasonable price.  However, because of VEA’s focus on innovation and community, by the summer of next year VEA members will begin buying low-cost renewable energy from this solar plant and prove that thinking wrong.

 

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