President Donald Trump brags about bringing back coal jobs, but tends to gloss over the fuel’s negative health effects for workers and those who live nearby. The Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada know all about those harmful health effects. After years of campaigning against a coal plant near their land, they finally saw it close as they switched on the first utility-scale solar plant ever erected on tribal land.
The Moapa Band of Paiutes resides in Nevada next to the coal-fired Reid Gardner Generating Station. The tribe has seen high rates of heart disease and asthma, and didn’t even benefit from the power plant – it neither powered their homes nor employed their people. But because the 311-person tribe is so small, it was difficult to conclusively establish their health issues were related to the plant.
Still, the tribe persisted in their campaign to shutter the plant, which provided power for Las Vegas. They started writing letters, and then took legal action with the help of the Sierra Club. When Las Vegas residents learned their power came from a plant polluting the air for people who lived next door, many of them got involved in the campaign as well. The tribe lost the case in 2013 but that same year Senate Bill 123 became law – requiring certain utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace some polluting power with renewable sources. The Reid Gardner Generating Station finally closed this year, last month. Its 40 employees didn’t even lose their jobs, since they were given new positions in the same company.
And now the tribe is turning to solar. They’ve leased land for the 250-megawatt Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project; First Solar started operations and recently sold the plant to Capital Dynamics. The tribe will receive revenue and 115 of their members obtained construction jobs for the plant, which recently began operating under a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Two tribe members will be permanently employed as field technicians.
Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Council chairman Darren Daboda said in a statement, “If our small tribe can accomplish this, then others can also. There are endless opportunities in renewable energy, and tribes across the nation have the perfect areas in which to build utility-scale projects.”