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White House advances large solar project on tribal land outside Las Vegas

The project could produce enough electricity to power nearly 11,500 homes.

(CN) — The Biden administration announced it would advance the proposal for a commercial-scale solar project to be installed on tribal land in the desert outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Chuckwalla Solar Projects calls for the construction of a massive solar array on 6,500 acres of the Moapa Indian Reservation in Clark County, Nevada.. The photovoltaic electricity plant would also be replete with battery storage facilities and has the potential to generate 70 megawatts of electricity for the surrounding area.

“Clean energy, including solar projects like these in Nevada, will help tribal communities be part of the climate solution,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “We are proud to play a role in the administration’s all-of-government approach toward its ambitious renewable energy goals, which will boost local economies and address economic and environmental injustice.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior published a draft environmental analysis to the Federal Register on Friday, paving the way for potential construction of the large solar array on tribal lands. 

The administration says the project conforms to Executive Order 1400, signed by President Joe Biden in the first days of his stint in the Oval Office, which purports to confer with Native American tribes in attempting to tackle climate change problems. 

The Interior Department recently approved two other commercial-scale solar projects on Moapa reservation land in Nevada, including the Arrow Canyon Solar Project. Construction on that project is already underway. 

The Arrow Canyon project is expected to generate enough electricity to power 64,000 single-family homes. The Southern Bighorn Solar Project is even larger, with the project expected to power approximately 128,000 homes. 

Deb Haaland is the first Native person to ever lead the Department of Interior, which controls many of the most salient federal agencies in charge of land-use decisions for the vast tracts of land the federal government controls in the American West. The federal government manages more than 80% of the land in Nevada. 

Haaland has repeatedly said tribes should be involved in bringing more solar projects online to help the United States meet its climate goals as set forth in the United Nations Paris climate agreement. 

“The time for a clean energy future is now — and tribal communities have a significant role to play in the administration’s ambitious goals,” she said in an announcement of the approval of Arrow Canyon and Southern Bighorn projects this past July. 

The Bureau of Land Management, which manages vast swaths of land throughout the American West, said about 40 industrial-scale commercial projects are in various phases of consideration within the agency. 

Solar projects capable of generating large amounts of electricity are viewed as even more crucial by the Biden administration and its allies in light of the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia. Russia’s industrial war machine is bolstered by the fact it is one of the biggest global suppliers of oil and gas.

Countries such as Germany and the United States rely on Russia to provide oil for domestic uses and are less able to counter its geopolitical actions as a result, pundits say. 

Republicans consistently criticize Biden’s domestic energy program, saying that while solar and wind may one day play a larger role in the nation’s energy portfolio, transitioning too quickly will hit everyday Americans in the pocketbook by increasing energy costs. 

Many gas pumps throughout California have seen gas prices spike above $5 a gallon, fueling conservative assertions that Democrats have cost consumers by discontinuing the domestic oil production policies of the Trump administration. But Biden ran on curtailing oil and gas drilling on public lands and promised a more robust approach to combating climate change. 

The Interior Department will host a virtual meeting on March 15 to hear public comment on the Chuckwalla project proposal. 

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